Georgie Fame – On The Right Track

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There have been several Georgie Fame compilations over the past decade, but it is this one on Raven that boils all of it down to the essence of his contribution to the Brit R&B beat-crazy scene of the 1960s and early ’70s. Here are the singles, the hits, the near misses, and the worthy album cuts compiled to show the audacity, imagination, and wild, swinging toughness of Fame. Fame’s earliest influences were Fats Domino and Little Richard, but by the time he cut his first album, Rhythm and Blues at the Flamingo, live at Great Britain’s notorious jazz club, he was deeply under the sway of Mose Allison’s Back Country Suite. And does that ever come across here. Fame was raw, in the moment, and always presenting his tracks with a slightly out of control feel. The 28 cuts here range from the jumping R&B of “Yeh Yeh” and Allison’s classic “Work Song” to his stellar read of Titus Turner’s “Get On the Right Track,” a smoky version of Milt Jackson’s “Bluesology,” a deeply soulful take on the John Mayall/Jon Mark groover “Something,” and the catchy pop ditty “The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde,” which reached number seven on the American charts. (It didn’t hurt that the tune came out at the same time as the infamous movie starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway.) All of these are in the first half of the set and recorded before 1967! But Fame could croon, too, as evidenced by this beautiful version of Little Willie John’s “Need Your Love So Bad,” with strings. The camped-up R&B move on Willie Dixon’s “Seventh Son” takes Allison’s version a step further, his horn-heavy rolling stroll on Bob Dylan’s “Down Along the Cove,” with a female backing chorus, completely reinvents the tune, and his jazzed-up New Orleans groove consciousness does the same on “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight.”

In all, this is an indispensable collection for anyone seeking to get acquainted with Fame outside of his work with Van Morrison or interested in the finger-poppin’ beat madness of swinging London in the ’60s.

The Graham Bond Organization – Solid Bond (1970)

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This rather odd double LP is a patchy, yet good assortment of ’60s material that Bond did not put out during that decade, and which remains unavailable on any other release. Nine of the 12 tracks date from 1966, with Bond accompanied by Dick Heckstall-Smith on sax and Jon Hiseman on drums (Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker had by this time left to join Cream). Most of those nine songs are not on the two proper albums he issued in the ’60s (The Sound of ’65 and There’s a Bond Between Us), and though a few did appear on those albums and non-LP singles, these recordings are different versions. While not up to the level of the best cuts waxed by the Bruce/Baker lineup, these Hiseman/Heckstall-Smith-backed numbers are still solid jazzy R&B with that aura of faint menace unique to Bond’s mid-’60s work. His singing is particularly effective in its drawn-out anguish on “It’s Not Goodbye” and “Springtime in the City” has those uneasy descending chord progressions and creepy R&B black-mass organ that were Bond specialties. “Neighbour Neighbour” and “Walkin’ in the Park” aren’t as good as the versions he did with Bond and Baker on the first two Graham Bond Organization LPs, but they’re different enough to merit hearing. The three remaining songs were done in 1963 with Bruce, Baker, Heckstall-Smith, and John McLaughlin, and are long, straight jazz pieces that are much different in nature. Historically they’re interesting, particularly in their documentation of the period in which McLaughlin (who solos well, though his free jazz style was a long way off in coming) was in the band. However, Bond’s outfit became much more distinguished as an R&B group than they were as an average jazz one, making the 1963 material more of a curiosity than a highlight of his discography.

Booker T. & The M.G.’s – Melting Pot

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Melting Pot could be the most well-realized of all the albums by Booker T. & the M.G.’s, a smooth and soulful, yet expansive 35 minutes of all originals, the latter in sharp contrast to their exploration of the Beatles’ Abbey Road album material on their preceding album. And the irony was that it was their swan song. Booker T. Jones, in particular, was increasingly unhappy working at Stax/Volt Records, owing his feelings to management and structural changes at the company, and also felt the need to change the group’s formula somewhat. Steve Cropper was playing lots of session work that was keeping him from recording in Memphis as well, and the result was an album recorded mostly in New York City, far away from Stax/Volt and largely built on the group’s (especially Jones’) best impulses. That said, Melting Pot managed to be a sort of back-to-the-roots effort in the sense that they were back to doing originals, but was also a strikingly more expansive record, with Jones in particular playing with an almost demonic intensity and range, backed ably by Donald “Duck” Dunn’s rocksteady bass in particular. There were a few other touches, such as the wordless chorus on “Kinda Easy Like” and extended running times, showing the group stretching out on much larger musical canvases.

Jr. Walker & the All Stars

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Walker & the All-Stars ended up on their Soul subsidiary, debuting for the label in 1964. In early 1965, they scored their first big hit with the dance tune “Shotgun,” which marked Walker’s vocal debut; in fact, the only reason he sang the song was that the vocalist he’d hired didn’t show up for the session, and he was somewhat flabbergasted by the label’s decision to leave his vocal intact. Berry Gordy’s instincts proved right, however, when “Shotgun” topped the R&B charts and hit the pop Top Five. A steady stream of mostly instrumental R&B chart hits followed, including “Do the Boomerang,” “Shake and Fingerpop,” and “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)” (Walker was, naturally, encouraged to record instrumental versions of Motown hits). In 1966, Graves left and was replaced by old cohort Billy “Stix” Nicks, and Walker’s hits continued apace with tunes like “I’m a Road Runner” and “Pucker Up Buttercup.” Toward the end of the ’60s, seeking to diversify their approach, the All-Stars began recording more ballad material, complete with string arrangements and Walker vocals. That approach resulted in the group’s second Top Five pop hit, the R&B number one “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love),” which helped refuel Walker’s career. He landed several more R&B Top Ten hits over the next few years, with the last coming in 1972.

Eric Burdon – My Secret Life

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My Secret Life consists of 13 tracks that form a loose song cycle revolving around Eric Burdon’s love of American music, specifically R&B, soul, blues, and jazz. While that theme dominates the entire record it is especially true on the eight tunes penned or co-written by Burton. “Can’t Kill the Boogieman” is a heartfelt tribute dedicated to John Lee Hooker featuring Burdon’s cherished memories of the blues legend sung over the tune of Hooker’s classic “Boogie Chillen.” He also shades/characterizes such artists as Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Philly Joe Jones, Billie Holiday, Josephine Baker, Otis Redding, and Chet Baker with first person observations, a skill no doubt honed with a foray into writing his autobiography Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood: A Memoir. Burdon’s voice is in fine shape, and he effortlessly jumps from soft spoken passages to his trademark blues grit that remains instantly recognizable from his days as vocalist of the Animals in the ’60s. What really makes this effort stand out from previous solo albums is the music itself. Instead of relying on the vocals to carry the music, My Secret Life allows the music to flow with unrestrained character darting off in several eclectic directions. “Once Upon a Time” apes both the Band and Van Morrison circa 1970, “The Secret” has slight elements of world rhythms, “Factory Girl” and “Highway 62” are dominated by a snaky Memphis guitar reminiscent of Pops Staples, and “Black and White World” (not the Elvis Costello tune) combines a breezy Hammond B-3 organ penetrated by a hyper ska beat. This disc should please any Burdon or Animals fan, but, more importantly, it may gain him some new listeners as well.

Rusty Zinn – Sittin’ & Waitin’

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A young, red-haired guitarist with a monster tone and technique that belies his relatively young years, Rusty Zinn grew up in the Santa Cruz mountains in northern California. He was introduced to classic R&B through his mother’s collection of 45 singles, which included rare discs from Fats Domino and Elvis Presley. While in his teens, his brother brought home recordings by Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, and these proved to be a revelation for the young blues aficionado. He would empty his pockets regularly to purchase blues recordings and became fascinated by the guitar stylings of Robert Jr. Lockwood, Eddie Taylor, Luther Tucker, and Jimmy Rogers. These records prompted him to begin playing guitar at 17. He had some background in music, having played drums when he was younger, but he enjoyed another crystallizing moment when he saw Luther Tucker perform with Jimmy Rogers at a local club. He credits the nightclub showcase with changing his life, and he sought out all the recordings he could find with Luther Tucker as a sideman, which included records by Little Walter Jacobs, Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, and James Cotton. A year later, when Zinn again went to see his idol, Tucker invited him on-stage. Tucker took the young Zinn under his wing and shared guitar techniques with him. Meanwhile, Zinn was working with several northern California blues bands in the late ’80s, and he was often tapped to back touring musicians like Snooky Pryor and Rogers.