The early '60s were a somewhat precarious time for R&B pioneer Hank Ballard; in 1960, six years after the Midnighters' "Work with Me, Annie" made him a star, he scored two of his biggest pop hits, "Finger Poppin' Time" and "Let's Go, Let's Go, Let's Go," but by 1962, his days on the pop charts would be over forever, and he'd spend years angling for a comeback that never happened. This two-fer release pairs up two of Ballard's albums from this era, 1960's The One and Only Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, and 1961's Spotlight on Hank Ballard, which capture Ballard in strong form despite a slight degree of creative uncertainty. These sides sometimes find Ballard aiming as much for the pop charts as the R&B circuit where he had first won fame: this thinking was typified by reworking 1954's "Sexy Ways" into the less lascivious "Cute Little Ways," and this music sounds more polished and refined than the wild sides that defined him as R&B's double-entendre man a few years earlier (it's hard to imagine Ballard cutting "Mona Lisa" or "Summertime" in the Midnighters' glory days). But Ballard's voice is in excellent shape throughout, and though he tries harder to play nice on this material, on tunes like "I Must Be Crazy," "The Hoochie Coochie Coo," "These Young Girls," and his version of "Kansas City," he's happy to let his nasty side have its day in the sun, and he sounds delighted to be doing so. This being the early '60s, the stereo mixes on some of these songs are eccentric and distracting (on one cut, the vocals and the entire band are in the right channel, while the left features only handclaps), but for the most part the audio here is good, and if these two albums don't deliver Hank Ballard at his very best, he's still sounding like he's got his chops and his confidence, and if you love early R&B and rock & roll, this should be right up your alley.
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