Various Artists

Night Train to Nashville: Music City Rhythm & Blues 1945-1970

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Issued to coincide with the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum's historic exhibit of the same name, this two-CD set is a treasure-trove of hits, misses, rarities, and smoking grooves. Certainly Nash Vegas is the capital of country music, but in its day it also boasted a wealth of stomping rhythm and blues music that flourished in the city for the better part of three decades, until the bulldozers of "urban renewal" destroyed much of its cultural base and forced it from its terrain. With 35 tracks, plus a pair of bonus tracks that are commercials, this set is an affordable, indispensable introduction to a nearly forgotten part of American musical history. The labels represented here are a cross-section of the great regional independents that were so numerous n the '40s, '50s and '60s. Imprints such as Do-Ra-Mi, who recorded Audrey Bryant, Excello, Champion, Sun, Hickory, Bullet, Dial, A-Bet, Elf, and Sound Stage recorded both luminaries and nobodies. Here are early sides by Hank Crawford when he was in a jump band, the wild and wooly Esquerita, Joe Tex, Arthur Alexander, Roscoe Shelton, Joe Simon, Etta James, Johnny Adams, and Christine Kittrell. And there are cuts by cats like Johnny Jones, Nashville's premier blues guitar slinger, Audrey Bryant, the city's Sarah Vaughan, and others who scored big on Nashville radio and jukeboxes, such as Peggy Scott and Jo Jo Benson, Clifford Curry, and Robert Knight. While some of these names might not mean much to causal listeners of old rhythm and blues and soul, connoisseurs will be delighted to find these sides, many of them on CD for the first time. However, the appeal of this collection should not be limited to aficionados, as virtually every track is crackling with energy, verve, and raw immediate soul. Sound is better than decent, the selection is impeccable, and the track notes by Michael Gray are top-notch.

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