Various Artists

The Jive Is Jumpin': RCA & Bluebird Vocal Groups, 1939-52

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There's barely a non-entertaining (forget uninteresting) moment among the 22 songs here. The Four Clefs were a self-contained unit, vocal, piano, guitar, bass, and drums built in, led by guitarist Johnny Green with Willie Chapman (drums, vibraphone) handling most of the lead singing. They didn't generate a big sound, but it was hot, tight, and punchy, with some fairly elaborate playing (check out the guitar solo and rhythm work on "V Day Stomp"), and at times very sophisticated, as on the surprisingly racy and smooth "When I'm Low I Get High." The Cats & the Fiddle, led by singer-guitarist Austin Powell, were discoveries of blues legend Tampa Red, and they displayed the kind of virtuosity with their singing that he did with his guitar -- "I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water," "Nuts to You," and "That's on Jack, That's On" are worth the price of the disc as showcases for acoustic-textured harmony R&B, the voices subbing for what would've been a trumpet section in full-size jazz bands of the time. The Lewis Bronzeville Five were more blues-oriented, and better with a slower ballad style, which they show off magnificently here -- their "Natchez Mississippi Blues" is a surprisingly topical number referring to an infamous (and deadly) club fire in Natchez in 1940. The Four Vagabonds' contribution here consists of a pair of specifically wartime-oriented music, with R&B-styled renditions of "Comin' in on a Wing and a Prayer" and "Rosie the Riveter." A chunk of this collection is given over to outfits that were, one way or another, crossing paths with Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five -- the Aristo-Kats, who are entertaining enough, despite sounding like warmed over Jordan; the Deep River Boys, who manage to beat Jordan to the punch at his own game with their version of "That Chick's Too Young to Fry"; and Bill Johnson & His Musical Notes, who sound more like Jordan than Jordan did. The best is saved for last: the Delta Rhythm Boys, who do vocal harmony versions of Count Basie's "One O'Clock Jump," arrangements of Billy Strayhorn's "Take the 'A' Train," and Hank Williams' "I'll Never Get out of This World Alive." And Steve Gibson & the Five Red Caps provide a coda with the hard-rocking "Boogie Woogie on a Saturday Night," cut in 1951 and brushing up against the coming rock & roll sound that would, ironically, push most of these groups out of the recording business. The excellent sound, and presence of detailed histories, personnel, and sessionography information make this a must-own release.

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