The 5 Royales are legendary, primarily in the sense that their legend grew over the years, as the status of what they achieved began to be realized. Like many trailblazing groups, the 5 Royales made music that wasn't fully appreciated at the time and is pigeonholed into the influential but not heard category. This makes their list of accomplishments seem academic -- they pushed through gospel and doo wop, incorporating jump and urban blues and, eventually, rock & roll, paving the way toward the soul of the '60s. Led by guitarist/songwriter Lowman Pauling, the group was remarkably versatile, stretching the accepted limits of what a vocal group could do, particularly because Pauling's guitar and earthy, soulful songwriting ignored boundaries and let the group follow suit. Listen to "Think," their second best-known song ("Dedicated to the One I Love" ranks as their first, with covers by the Shirelles and the Mamas & the Papas). Later covered by James Brown in a rampaging, unhinged fashion, this has the basic stuttering, stop-start rhythm of that version, surrounded by gospel-influenced harmonies and great bluesy guitar - touching on nearly everything the group fused together to create their own sound, one that uncannily suggested the sound of soul in the '60s. This approach gelled a little later in their career, toward the end of the '50s, during the recordings chronicled on the second disc of Monkey Hips and Rice, Rhino's impeccable career-spanning 1994 collection. On the first disc, the group is still quite innovative, even if the seams show, as the group blends together harmony groups, gospel, blues and R&B in a lively fashion. They take off toward the end of the first disc, stretching through the second disc, with a stretch of invigorating music that is among the greatest R&B ever recorded. Perhaps two discs may seem like a lot for those that haven't heard the 5 Royales before, but this is not just the most comprehensive set of 5 Royales material yet assembled, it's also the best, illustrating not just their importance, but making that history lesson fun.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Track Listing - Disc 1
feat: Royal Sons Quintet
Track Listing - Disc 2