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SPEAK EASY - THE RPM RECORDS STORY VOL 2 (2CD)

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Ace (CDTOP2 1421)

B.B. King, Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson, Joe Houston, Pat Cupp, Maxwell Davis, Donna Hightower, Richard Berry, ‘Little George’ Smith, The Jacks, Preacher Stephens, The Chanters, Eddy Lang, and more…

This CD is the second instalment of Ace’s excellent overview of the history of the Modern Records’ subsidiary label, RPM. It picks up the story in 1953 where Volume 1 (No More Doggin’, CDTOP2 1406) left off, taking us right through to 1957 when Modern chose to shut the operation down.

This issue differs markedly  from Volume 1 in that many  big-name blues and R&B artists featured in the first set had left the roster by 1953, leaving the label needing to  record newer, lesser known artists and to include a broader range of musical styles in search of the required hits.

The inclusion on this set of a lot more lesser known artists and a more diverse musical palette allows us to discover and enjoy many artists and recordings that we might not have come across elsewhere. And the outcomes of this are uniformly rewarding: Connie Mack Booker’s invigorating blues guitar on Love Me Pretty Baby is a joy; ‘Little George’ Smith’s blues harmonica-led instrumental Blues In The Dark rocks and swings in equal measure; and Donna Hightower has a handful of numbers included here to demonstrate what a delight she was - check out Hands Off, an enjoyably spirited bopper, and He’s My Baby, a finger-popping little number enlivened by an admirably explosive guitar break. On the other side of top-flight R&B, Why Don’t You Write Me? by The Jacks is a gentle masterpiece that combines gorgeous vocal R&B with a simple but heart-wrenching song.

Among the best moments, probably because they are the most unexpected, are some tracks not typically associated with RPM-type records, such as the crazed rockabilly and rock and roll of Pat Cupp’s Do Me No Wrong, The Jewels boppin’ She’s A Flirt and Don Cole’s enjoyable too-cool-for--school Snake Eyed Mama. Then there are the fine New Orleans grooves laid down in the funky R&B of You Gotta Crawl Before You Walk by Eddy Lang and the thumping  rhythms of Down In New Orleans by George Smith.

Not that there aren’t any big names and well-known recordings included here. B.B. King continued to issue records through RPM during this period, including some of his biggest early hits such as You Upset Me Baby, Everyday I have The Blues and Sweet Little Angel, all included here. And Johnny ‘Guitar Watson’ is also well represented with some of his early tracks such as She Moves Me and Hot Little Mama, all featuring his paint-stripping guitar breaks. But, if you already have these sides on other collections, Ace have (as usual) gone that extra mile by sourcing and issuing alternate takes wherever such numbers have been heard before on their releases.

As with the first volume in the series (and all Ace releases) there is a fabulous full colour booklet to aid in your enjoyment of the music - in this case a packed 20 pages. Just one more reason of many to get hold of this excellent set.

Review Date: January 2015

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