Junior Parker has had quite the career, perfecting his harmonica playing at the feet of Sonny Boy Williamson and impressing crowds around his Memphis home with his smooth blues vocals, including a talent-scouting Ike Turner, who brought the artist to Modern Records to record his debut single in 1952. The following year, Parker and his backing Blue Flames were ensconced at Sun, cutting the driving "Feelin' Good" single, which boogied straight to Number Five in the R&B chart, as well as the loose-limbed "Love My Baby" and simmering "Mystery Train," the latter later covered by Elvis Presley. But even with this success, Parker decamped to Duke before the year was out. However, it would take four more years before he reentered the charts, beginning with the sweet, swinging jazz of the title track, followed by 1958's urgent R&B ode to "Sweet Home Chicago," and finishing out the decade with the blues spectacular "Five Long Years." These three hits were all recorded earlier in the decade, along with all the tracks on this set, spanning the period from June 1953 through a batch believed to have been cut in 1955. Unusually for the compilers at Arkama, who tend to be sticklers for detail, the tracks are not chronological nor are personnel details supplied for half the numbers. Regardless, the music speaks for itself, although fans of Parker's harmonica playing will be disappointed that his mouth organ is featured so sparsely within -- still, his wonderfully understated playing is highlighted across "Five Long Years" and "These Kind of Blues." The versatile Parker may have been tagged as a blues artist, but he's equally at home across the R&B spectrum, from the big band-laced version of Elmore James' "Yonder's Wall" to the Western-flared, rockabilly-spiced "Seven Days." Inevitably, though, Parker shines brightest when mired in the blues, his smooth vocals slurring with depression when he's "Feelin' Bad" and just "Sittin' Drinkin' and Thinkin'," or pulsing with emotion upon discovering "Someone Broke This Heart of Mine." It was Parker's easy adaptability to styles and arrangements that ensured his longevity, for the hits kept coming right up to his premature death in 1971. This set, featuring his early work, is where it all began.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Jo-Ann Greene