Jesse Belvin

Guess Who: The RCA Victor Recordings

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This two-CD anthology does Belvin fans and collectors a mighty favor by collecting all of his RCA recordings into one release. It includes everything from both of his albums for the label; almost a dozen songs from non-LP 45s; one track, "My Last Goodbye," that didn't come out until a posthumous 1966 LP; and both sides of a 1958 single by the Chargers on which Belvin sang. However, those who value Belvin primarily as an R&B singer and soul forerunner might be taken aback, and quite possibly disappointed, by the overtly adult pop nature of many of these sides, particularly the ones from the two albums (1959's Just Jesse Belvin and 1960's Mr. Easy). It's been said by many others, but it's true, that Belvin sounds very much like he's trying to edge in on Nat King Cole's territory on these lushly produced numbers, which in reality owe barely anything to rock & roll or R&B. Belvin did that style well, but it's not what he did best, and it's not what he did on his most exciting recordings. You hear more of that soul/R&B -- albeit tempered with a fairly heavy pop influence and production -- on the singles, including "Guess Who" (his only Top 40 pop hit) and his cover of "Pledging My Love." Even on those singles, however, he was venturing into some pretty mainstream sounds, going as far as to tackle "Volare." It's enough to make one wonder whether Belvin would have stuck with rock and soul had he not died young, though the odd song like "It Could Have Been Worse" proved he retained his feel for bluesy material. This compilation might be necessary to gain a fully rounded picture of Belvin's career, but certainly his earlier Modern recordings are both better and more indicative of why he's highly regarded by early rock & roll fans.

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