Syd Nathan's Cincinnati-based King Records began as a country label in 1943, but moved quickly into the burgeoning blues and R&B market as the decade progressed, and by the early '60s, Nathan had issued countless classics in the genre through his King, Federal, and Deluxe imprints, 25 tracks of which are collected (in chronological order of release) on Dealing With the Devil. There are easily a dozen gems here, including Lonnie Johnson's elegant 1948 version of "Tomorrow Night," which opens the disc, and Johnny "Guitar" Watson's 1961 oddity "Cuttin' In" (featuring Watson's signature guitar lines fronting a full violin section), which closes it. In between, listeners are treated to John Lee Hooker's raw "Devil's Jump" (which Hooker recorded under the name Texas Slim in order to sidestep his Modern Records contract), fellow Detroiter Eddie Burns (with help from Washboard Willie) on "Dealing With the Devil," a delightfully swinging "Let the Doorbell Ring" by venerable New Orleans pianist Champion Jack Dupree, and Roy Brown's sighing, melismatic vocal style on "Hard Luck Blues." Another obvious highlight here is the incredible soul vocal (a decade before the term "soul" was widely used) by Little Willie John on 1955's "Need Your Love So Bad." The shifting nature of the music business meant that King Records and its various imprints were all but forgotten by the time of Nathan's death in 1968, and the masters were sold to Starday Records, which sold them to Lin Broadcasting, which passed them on to Tennessee Recording and Broadcasting, which in turn sold them to GML, Inc. GML has maintained a vigorous reissue and licensing campaign of the material in the King backlist since the 1980s. Fans of urban blues and early R&B will find that a blessing, and one hopes that albums like Dealing With the Devil (which is issued here by Varese Sarabande) will continue to be assembled from the vast King, Federal, and Deluxe vaults.
AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett