Various Artists

Caribbean R&B Classics

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The rather convoluted rationale for this compilation needs a bit of explanation, certainly to American listeners. Though titled Caribbean R&B Classics, this is not something so exotic as R&B sung and played by Caribbean performers. Instead, it's a collection of 20 American R&B songs that were favorites among Jamaican listeners in the 1950s. In Jamaica, music beloved by middle-aged to senior citizens when those listeners were young is known as "Big People Music"; 1950s R&B, ergo, is now the "Big People Music" of many Jamaicans who were growing up during that decade. It can't exactly claim to be the most balanced anthology of such sounds, since every cut is licensed from the Modern group of labels. Getting past all that, this is a pretty good collection of '50s R&B, doo wop, and early rock & roll, and more listenable than most of the many Modern-licensed compilations on the Ace label due to its relatively wide variety. There are some pretty well-known classics here, like Jesse Belvin's "Goodnight My Love," Gene & Eunice's "Ko Ko Mo," the Teen Queens' "Eddie My Love," the Jacks' "Why Don't You Write Me," and Marvin & Johnny's "Cherry Pie." There are also some relatively obscure songs by famous or at least pretty well-known artists like B.B. King, Etta James, Johnny "Guitar" Watson, and Rosco Gordon. Then there are the names that are hardly known at all to the wider public, like the Cliques and Jimmy Beasley. It's a good mixture of sounds from the time R&B was just starting to mature into rock and soul, some of the more interesting less-exposed items including the riveting up-tempo R&B of Donna Hightower's "Hands Off," Etta James' "Come What May" (whose melody is rather similar to "Danke Schoen"), and Jimmy Beasley's "My Happiness," an uncanny Fats Domino sound-alike.

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