An unsung guitar player and one of the Crescent City's best songwriters, Earl King mixed New Orleans R&B with just a touch of straight blues, and while he frequently wrote about the hard hazards of romance, he sang his material with a wink and a smile which made his tough times tales still feel like party music. This first volume in Classics' chronological history of King's recording career begins with both sides of his debut single for Savoy Records from 1953 when he was billed as Earl Johnson, then moves on to his sides for Art Rupe's Specialty Records from 1954 when he was billed as either Earl King or the Kings, depending on the release, and finishes with his first recordings for Ace Records from 1955 (he would remain with Ace until 1960 before switching over to Lew Chudd's Imperial Records), some of which were released under the name Handsome Earl. Whatever he was billed as, King was as efficient as he was prolific (nothing here even comes close to three minutes in length), and his songs feel like they've been around for a long time; they are a part of the very structure of New Orleans R&B. Highlights here include the bouncing "Have You Gone Crazy," the fascinating and stuttering rhythm of "'Til I Say We're Done," the late-night feel of "Sitting and Wondering" (given a boozy atmosphere by Lee Allen's tenor sax lines), and King's classic "Those Lonely, Lonely Nights." King would develop and evolve further as his career progressed, but these earliest sides have a wonderfully open feel of energy and joy, and while technically it's the blues, it's also New Orleans dance music through and through.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett