Various Artists

Birth of Rhythm & Blues

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While rhythm & blues has a pedigree stretching back to the dawn of the 20th century, it was only in the late '30s that smaller groups began jumping with the energy of swing and the spirit of the blues. The Birth of Rhythm & Blues, a three-disc box from Golden Stars, trawls through the subsequent decade and casts a wide net over the jazz, blues, and vocal tracks that made R&B the hot combination to watch for years to come. Of the handful of tracks necessary for a proper look at early R&B, this one has nearly all of them -- "The Honeydripper" by Joe Liggins, "Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop" by Lionel Hampton, "Caldonia" by Louis Jordan, "Harlem Nocturne" by the Johnny Otis Band, "Call It Stormy Monday" by T-Bone Walker, "Drifting Blues" by Johnny Moore & the Three Blazers, and "Good Rockin' Tonight" by Wynonie Harris. The other inclusions in the 48-track box are barely less crucial; R&B's roots in weekend partying are apparent in dynamite songs like "Saturday Night Fish Fry" by Louis Jordan, "I Know Who Threw the Whiskey in the Well" by Bull Moose Jackson, "Chicken Shack Boogie" by Amos Milburn, and "Drinkin' Wine, Spo-Dee-O-Dee" by Stick McGhee. The box includes tracks from all manner of male artists, from shouters (Harris, Jackson, Big Joe Turner) to honkers (Paul Williams, Big Jay McNeely, Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson), and it also charts the progression of female vocalists in R&B, from pioneers like Helen Humes, Ella Fitzgerald, and Dinah Washington to Nellie Lutcher, Ruth Brown, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. These discs aren't packed with music -- each would have held twice the tracks they do -- but as a wrap-up of early R&B, The Birth of Rhythm & Blues leaves little out.

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