Album Reviews

Various Artists: Such A Much! R&B Girls of the 50s and 60s/Popcorn Girls/Mid Century Minx (Croydon Municipal)

croydon
Croydon Municipal is the brainchild of author, popular culture expert, and Saint Etienne founder Bob Stanley. It is dedicated to documenting obscurities from the 1950s and 1960s, and so far the results have been delightful. Three of the label’s most recent releases have been compilations, dedicated to higlighting the music of women in different genres of music.

For those of you who like raw, raucous R&B, the compilation Such a Much! R&B Girls of the 50s and 60s  will be right up your alley. A few of the usual suspects are here, like LaVern Baker, Ruth Brown, and Etta James, but most of these songs are from names long forgotten by the mainstream. And oh, how good these songs are! Blanche Thomas‘ “You Ain’t So Such A Much” gives the compilation its title, and is an answer song to Lieber & Stoller’s classic “Hound Dog.” Only thing is, she gives it back to men like Elvis Presley, putting them in their place, while deflating their precious male ego. Big Maybelle‘s “I Got A Feeling” is a wonderful mid-tempo blues, a sound that you can feel, while Wynona Carr‘s “Please Mr. Jailer” is a deep, potent ballad sung by a former Gospel singer, imploring that her wrongfully-accused man be released from his cell. It’s a powerful number, and the highlight among a disc full of great jukebox jumpers and rowdy blues.

Next up is Popcorn Girls. It’s the second volume the label has released in regards to so-called “Popcorn Music,” an underground Belgian music scene that’s similar in nature to the more established Northern Soul movement. The songs in the Popcorn Music scene are decidedly more mid-tempo, and that’s certainly true here. There are some great numbers here, and though they may be mid-tempo, that doesn’t mean they don’t rock. Baby Washington‘s “Hey Lonely One” dates from 1963, a fine girl-group style number with a definite Spector-style production. The jaunty Sherri Taylor track, “He’s The One Who Rings My Bell” is a whole lotta fun. Barbara Pittman, who was one of the few women to record for Sun Records, offers up “Handsome Man,” a fine track from her post-Sun work with subsidiary label Phillips International. The big rarity of this collection is the inclusion of Tuesday Weld’s sole single release, “Are You The Boy?” While this 1960 single highlights why Weld’s singing career didn’t take off, it’s an interesting track in spite of its less-than-stellar performance. While the Popcorn sound may not be defined by this compilation, Popcorn Girls does offer up proof that the scene knows good music!

For those who want a mellower, romantic jazz experience, check out Mid Century Minx. This collection focuses on jazz singers, torch-song divas, and big band queens. To this writer, the sounds of this record highlight what he always thought jazz should sound like. There are twenty wonderful songs in this very relaxing set, but this guy digs Mavis RiversNelson Riddle-backed 1960 recording, “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” Ethel Ennis‘ easy, breezy cool jazz recording from 1956, “Off Shore,” and Doris Drew’s take on classic R&B number “I Only Have Eyes For You.” The standout track, however, is “Beyond The Next Hill,” from troubled singer Beverley Kenney,and is one of the last sides she recorded before she took her life at the young age of 28. But the haunting nature of the song doesn’t cloud the overall relaxing mood that will come over you while listening to the rest of this compilation.

Kudos to Croydon Municipal for offering such diverse yet similar compilations to the world, and may 2015 offer up even more delicious platters of rare delights!

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