Bobby Charles

Walking to New Orleans (The Jewel & Paula Recordings 1964-1965)

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Bobby Charles could write a hit, as "Walking to New Orleans" and "See You Later Alligator" proved, but he wasn't necessarily the one to have the hit. Others would come along and record perfect, definitive versions of the songs, while Charles remained behind the scenes -- or, perhaps more accurately, down in New Orleans, recording singles for independent labels without ever breaking out of the region. It's not that hard to see why he remained a local favorite, not a star. He had a relaxed delivery that was too idiosyncratic and laid-back, something that was perfect for New Orleans and R&B connoisseurs back then, and right now, which is why WestSide is offering Walking to New Orleans (The Jewel & Paula Recordings 1964-1965). These are the sides that are often overlooked in Charles' career -- he had more success with Chess in the '50s; his Band-sponsored Bearsville record in 1972 brought him to a new audience -- but they're as good as anything he ever did. This has a light, easy touch, not just in his delivery but in the nimble rhythms and the no-frills production (never gritty, always friendly). Some of the sides are a little generic but in a good way: they deliver what they should. But the best is smart, funny, warm New Orleans R&B that anyone who truly loves the genre should seek out.

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