Cosimo Matassa began recording New Orleans R&B and soul long before the '60s, the decade documented on this 2014 compilation from Ace. Named after an online collection of Cosimo aficionados who have taken it upon themselves to seek out and document every Matassa-related single released, Cracking the Cosimo Code: 60s New Orleans R&B and Soul concentrates not on the '50s -- that era can be found on Proper's wonderful 2007 box The Cosimo Matassa Story -- but the slicker, funkier '60s. The shift in sound naturally coincided with a changing of the guard among New Orleans musicians, producers, and writers, with such wild, gritty players as Earl Palmer and Lee Allen replaced by the slinky soul of Allen Toussaint, Eddie Bo, and Wardell Quezergue. The 24 tracks on Cracking the Cosimo Code don't have that uninhibited swing of Little Richard, Fats Domino, and Smiley Lewis, which only emphasizes that Crescent City R&B and soul had a distinct flavor in the '60s while remaining recognizably New Orleans. There are a few singles that are unquestionable standards -- Jessie Hill's opening "Ooh Poo Pah Doo," Earl King's "Trick Bag," Lee Dorsey's "Get Out Of My Life, Woman," Oliver Morgan's "Who Shot the LaLa," and, especially, Robert Parker's perennial "Barefootin'" and Aaron Neville's "Tell It Like It Is" -- but where this really shines is in how Ace made a breakthrough in licensing Matassa's '60s distribution center Dover Records, so a lot of rare 45s show up on this disc for the first time. Among the highlights, Blazer Boy's "New Orleans Twist" brings the dance craze to New Orleans, Reggie Hall's "The Joke" is a sly novelty, and Willie West's "You Told Me" is a storming dance number; the collection's high points also include a hard funky 1964 re-recording of "The Monkey Speaks His Mind" from Dave Bartholomew and Mac Rebennack writing an easy-grooving Impressions tune for Ronnie Barron with "Did She Mention My Name," while Joe Haywood's "Play a Cornbread Song for Me and My Baby" approximates some of the sweaty soul coming out of Muscle Shoals. Surrounding the aforementioned timeless hits with these little-heard gems revives the overly familiar tunes, giving them some of the crackle of the excavated sides, all of which amounts to one stomping good time.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine