Smiley Lewis recorded for a few labels, but the sides he cut for Imperial in the first half of the 1950s were his most enduring. This fine anthology has 33 of them, including the songs for which he will be most remembered, even if they achieved their greatest success via other versions: "I Hear You Knocking" (covered by Fats Domino and, much later, Dave Edmunds), "One Night" (done with cleaned-up lyrics by Elvis Presley), and "Blue Monday" (also covered by Domino). Championed by critics and collectors but forgotten by most of the general population, Lewis was perhaps the greatest exponent of New Orleans R&B during this period bar Lloyd Price and Domino himself. As famed New Orleans musician/arranger Dave Bartholomew was involved in these recordings (as he was with Domino's), it's hard to imagine that fans of Domino and the like won't enjoy this collection. It's true that it isn't as varied as Domino's work, and that the aforementioned songs are the most memorable and strongest of the lot. Less youthful and pop-friendly than Domino and Price, Lewis' foggy vocals and the crack New Orleans R&B backing nonetheless exuded a similar exuberant charm, though he was less adaptable to the oncoming rock & roll explosion than his local peers were. There have been more elaborate Lewis collections, but this is a fine, good-value entry point, with good liner notes and a sessionography of his Imperial recordings.
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