The Bihari Brothers launched Flair, their third subsidiary of Modern Records, in 1953 with the intention of releasing nothing but country music. As it turns out, they had no flair for hillbilly. Spooked by their immediate flops, they refashioned Flair as another blues and R&B imprint, signing Elmore James as their first artist, either not knowing or caring that he was still signed to Trumpet at the time. As he waited for his Trumpet contract to expire, James and his band functioned as a bit of a house band for Flair, backing Little Johnny Jones on "Dirty by the Dozen (Sweet Little Woman)," and, appropriately enough, Elmore James was the flagship artist for the label, releasing 11 singles between 1953-1955, which is roughly an eighth of the 45s Flair released in its short time. Seven of these songs anchor Ace's 2014 compilation Dust My Rhythm & Blues: The Flair Records R&B Story 1953-1955 but the intent is not to showcase Elmore, even though he is the labels' best-known artist and his Flair sides are among his finest recordings. Often using alternate takes that sound as potent as the released sides, this showcases the entirety of the label and, as such, there's a lot more rhythm & blues than there is straight-up blues, with Richard Berry -- the songwriter of "Louie Louie" -- responsible for a fair chunk of it. He wrote and recorded, both on his own as part of the Ricky & Jennell duo and as part of the vocal group the Dreamers, he ran sessions and helped push a swinging modern sensibility that stands in contrast to the jump blues of Big Duke. Elsewhere, the Bihari Brothers Modern mainstay Ike Turner can be heard -- both on his own and as the driving force behind Matt Cockrell and Billy Gale -- and his grittiness works well alongside James. Usually, Flair didn't play too smooth -- Saunders King was an exception -- but they never quite got as down and dirty as Chess or Sun, and that's the appeal: they're at a halfway point between jump blues and modern electric blues, an R&B label in the truest sense, and illustrating this clear distinction is why this collection is so valuable.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2