Various Artists

Sugar in My Bowl: Vintage Sex Songs 1923-1952

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Although it's a popular notion that America's fascination with all things sexual burst into the open during the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s, this ribald collection of sex songs drawn mostly from the 1920s and 1930s shows that things were bubbling along well before that. Sung here by female blues and jazz singers, these suggestive songs use various food metaphors to talk about sex, and give credence to the possibility that food and sex have been linked together in the American mindset for a good long time. All manner of condiments, hot dogs, peanuts, and jelly rolls parade through these tracks until one feels like driving straight to the nearest convenience store for some late-night snacks, which, come to think of it, Americans do all the time. Bessie Smith even manages to get sugar, hot dogs, and jelly rolls all into one line in the opener and title tune here, "I Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl," while Lil Johnson goes so far as to name names in "Sam the Hot Dog Man." There are some surprises, too, like gospel guitarist and singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe doing a pair of decidedly secular tunes, "I Want a Tall Skinny Papa" and "Rock Me," which features some pretty cool guitar, by the way. The most startling track is the final one, Lucille Bogan's "Shave 'Em Dry" from 1935, which dispenses with metaphor altogether and talks about sex with a stunning directness, even using the F-word with a precise exactness that contemporary rappers often seem unable to grasp, for all their use of the word and its derivations. Bogan's recording has horrible sound, but it somehow all adds to the stark, unforgiving honesty of it, and "Shave 'Em Dry" gives off an unbelievable intensity. Food is the last thing on her mind.

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