Big Joe Turner

The Midnight Special

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Big Joe Turner was among the greatest jump blues shouters of all time, and he certainly helped pave the way for the rock & roll explosion of the mid-'50s. But Turner was also a fine jazz singer. When the Kansas City native recorded for Norman Granz's Pablo label in the '70s, he was often heard in jazz settings -- and The Midnight Special is among the swing-oriented dates that Turner provided for Pablo when he was in his sixties. This album, which Fantasy reissued on CD in 2002 for the Original Jazz Classics (OJC) series, was recorded in a Los Angeles studio in 1976. But The Midnight Special sounds like it could have been recorded in a small club. That's because it has the feeling of a loose jam session; Turner and his hard-swinging sidemen (who include saxophonist Curtis Peagler, trumpeter Jake Porter, and guitarist Cal Green, among others) sound delightfully spontaneous on standards that range from "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" and "You're Driving Me Crazy" to Leadbelly's "The Midnight Special." The singer also turns his attention to Woody Guthrie's "So Long" (a folk song) and "I Left My Heart in San Francisco"; although Tony Bennett recorded the definitive version of the latter, Turner's jazz interpretation isn't without its charms. To his credit, Turner doesn't even try to emulate Bennett's version -- he's wise enough to do his own thing. The Midnight Special isn't among Turner's essential releases, but it's an enjoyable outing that hardcore fans will appreciate -- and collectors will be happy to know that Fantasy has added five bonus tracks (most of them alternate takes).

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