Various Artists

Mellow Cats 'n' Kittens: Hot R&B and Cool Blues 1946-52

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The Modern label, as any fan of early R&B knows, was a hugely important record company in the 1940s and 1950s, recording a wealth of pivotal blues/R&B crossover artists. This compilation of two dozen 1946-1952 tracks from the Modern vaults is geared toward the hardcore collector of such sounds, 14 of the cuts seeing release for the first time here, and four others being previously issued alternate takes. Helen Humes, Little Willie Littlefield, and Jimmy Witherspoon are the only singers here with whom more casual R&B listeners might be acquainted, unless you count "Scatman," better known as the actor Scatman Crothers. So it's far from the best place to start getting acquainted with the imprint's legacy, but it's recommended to committed fans of the Modern sound, as well as rabid early R&B fans in general. The quality of the material really isn't that much different or lower than much of the better-known music the label recorded, and the use of so many different artists and sources means that it has a little more variety than many a Modern-derived reissue. This was the time when blues, boogie-woogie, swing jazz, and some pop were coming together in a way they never had (particularly in Los Angeles, where Modern was based), and in its own way this CD accurately reflects and documents numerous aspects of this transition, from romantic ballads to frantic boppers. The best stuff, perhaps, is the most jive-hepcat-oriented, like Scatman's wildly scatting "Exactly Like You" and Three Bits of Rhythm's "Shadrack" and "Root Beer Sizzle Sazzle Sizzle," which sparkle with a kind of sly city-slicker wit that would all but disappear from pop music by the end of the 20th century. Keep an ear out, by the way, for the aforementioned Scatman taking the lead vocal on an alternate take of Wild Bill Moore & His Orchestra's "Rock 'n' Roll aka I Want to Rock 'n' Roll," which named "rock 'n' roll" in its title years before the term achieved widespread popularity.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
3:01 Spotify
2 2:46 Spotify
3 2:47 Spotify
4 2:27 Spotify
5 2:53
3:12 Spotify
2:16 Spotify
8 2:31 Spotify
9 3:01 Spotify
2:34 Spotify
2:41 Spotify
12 2:52 Spotify
13 2:58 Spotify
3:10 Spotify
15 2:25 Spotify
2:31 Spotify
17 2:20 Spotify
2:46 Spotify
19 2:45 Spotify
20 2:58 Spotify
21 2:12 Spotify
2:47 Spotify
23 2:46 Spotify
24 2:13 Spotify
blue highlight denotes track pick