Twenty rare R&B ravers (dancing optional).
Spanish reissue label Vampisoul never goes for the predictable and this, their fourth volume of R&B and proto-soul from the King and Federal vaults, gathers up gem after gem. Many of these tunes have never previously been reissued while the others are very rare, which means – to these ears, anyway – every track is a surprise.
As the title of this 16-track album suggests, this is very much music made for dancers, so everything here is up-tempo. Superbly compiled by Mr Fine Wine (no, we don’t know who he is either), these stompers deliver surprise after surprise: The 5 Royales’ Don’t Be Ashamed features some very tough guitar from Lowman Pauling while Little Esther’s Cherry Wine features the nasal Texan diva offering up an ode to a substance that would, in the long run, lead to her early death. The then popularity of Latin music is reflected in Little Joe Washington’s magnificent Bossa Nova And Grits and Wynonie Harris’ somewhat naff – if entertaining – Good Mambo Tonight.
The ‘Grits’ in the title comes from such now-fêted artists as Amos Milburn, The Midnighters and Roy Brown, who all deliver powerhouse R&B. Jimmy Scott – he of the most plaintive voice ever – is captured well on Somewhere Down The Line while Lulu Reed and Freddy King duel on You Can’t Hide. Another great guitarist featured here is Jimmy Nolen, whose The Way You Do demonstrates how in 1956 he was already an inventive player (a decade later he would largely invent funk guitar as part of James Brown’s band).
An outer space theme comes in on the final two tunes: Little Willie John’s Mister Glenn and Young John Watson’s Space Guitar (yes, that’s Johnny “Guitar” Watson doing his proto-Hendrix magic). The period covered here ranges from 1953 to 1967, with most of the recordings being late 50s/early 60s, so reflecting R&B at its most charged and swaggering. There’s not a dud here and for swing dancers Bossa Nova And Grits will encourage all kinds of crazy moves on the dance floor. For those of us who prefer to listen while stationary, meanwhile, this remains a hugely enjoyable compilation.