Various Artists

Rhythm 'n' Blues, Vol. 1 [RNB]

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Originally bootleg compilations of obscure R&B, doo wop, and early rock & roll sides compiled by British collectors, the multiple volumes that make up the Stompin', Dangerous Doo Wop, Desperate Rock 'n' Roll, and Rhythm 'n' Blues collections have been released by various U.K. and U.S. companies since the late '80s. While these brave record companies and distributors have certainly had to deal with some copyright issues, fans obviously have benefited from the move: the rogue reissues not only gave fans access to long unavailable material, but also helped spurn, or at least stimulate, the slew of "official" roots music reissues of the '90s, most notably those put out by the Rhino label. What's ensued has been an excavation of long untouched record company vaults, which, unfortunately, is still primarily driven by marketing imperatives (the most suspect, but by now standard and potentially most profitable reissues of course coming about as a result of a musician's death). And while some critics have deemed these collections as novelty items full of second-rate material, there actually is an incredible range of high quality and intriguing music to be heard (blues and hillbilly hybrids, vaudevillian R&B numbers, etc.). This first volume of the Rhythm 'n' Blues series certainly mixes things up nicely with honkin' instrumentals by jazz and R&B giants Gene Ammons and Bill Doggett, scorching jump-blues vocals like Sonny Parker's "My Soul's on Fire," and humorously glib duets by acts like Oscar & Jeanette and Gene & Eunice. Lyrical and musical hijinks do mark many of the sides (namely William Harrison's "Gin & Coconut Milk"), but the deft incorporation of humor into the always engaging music keeps things balanced throughout. Highly recommended even in light of the expected lack of liner notes and credits (some background would have been helpful though). A note to interested buyers: acquisition of this and any of the other titles will require some persistent searching at a well-stocked, independent record store.