A distant relative of Memphis Minnie, LaVern Baker was instrumental in reshaping the blues vocal into something closer to pop. This interesting collection includes the fiery singer's earliest sides, beginning with her debut recording for RCA Victor in 1949, "Easy Baby," when she was billing herself as Little Miss Sharecropper. Also included here are sides she cut for the Columbia and OKeh labels in 1952 under the name Bea Baker, and the four songs she recorded for the King label a year later under her own name before signing with Atlantic in 1953. Baker's stay at Atlantic was to last ten years, and her reputation rests with the material she did while with the label, the earliest sides of which appear on this compilation, including the masterful "Must I Cry Again," the stunning "Soul on Fire," and her first big hit, "Tweedle Dee." White singer Georgia Gibbs quickly did a note-for-note cover of "Tweedle Dee" and had a substantial pop hit with it, leading Baker to sue her, and although Baker lost the suit, she had no problem hitting the pop charts with her subsequent Atlantic releases. Sexy, sensual, and a dynamite singer, Baker brought style and substance to her jazzy jump blues material, transforming it to the edge of rock & roll, and paving the way for the pop-soul of the 1960s. Her best work was on Atlantic, and this collection just edges into that era, so casual listeners may be better off picking up Atlantic's fine 20-track, single-disc Soul on Fire anthology that features the highlights from her stay with the label. As a buildup to that, though, this chronological set gives a fine portrait of this impressive performer.
AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett
feat: Bea Baker
feat: Bea Baker