Hank Ballard / Hank Ballard & the Midnighters

Hank Ballard and the Midnighters

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The mid-'50s were fertile years for American rhythm and blues, producing some of the grittiest, most soulful recordings ever made. Throughout the era, giants such as James Brown, Clyde McPhatter, Little Willie John, Jackie Wilson, and Ray Charles regularly battled for the top slots on the R&B charts. Standing toe-to-toe with these masters was Hank Ballard, a masterful singer equally deserving of the accolades frequently heaped upon so many of his contemporaries.

Ballard might best be described as a chittlin' circuit Jackie Wilson. Like Wilson, Ballard sang in a rich tenor that emanated from the back of his throat. But while Wilson favored orchestras and lush backing choruses, Ballard employed a stripped-down, funky rock-style ensemble highlighted by the raw, bluesy guitar of Cal Green. HANK BALLARD AND THE MIDNIGHTERS' 12 tracks present a solid, representative sample of the many things Ballard did well: R&B ballads ("In the Doorway Crying"), blues shuffles ("Open Up the Back Door"), New Orleans-style rock ("Stay By My Side"), and proto doo wop ("Partners For Life"). Newcomers to Ballard's work may want to start with SEXY WAYS, Rhino's definitive greatest hits package, before proceeding to these more obscure but equally worthwhile tracks.

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