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Black Nights: The Early Kent Sessions, CD (£11.50)
From the opening blast of the brass on the title track Black Nights you know this CD is going to be something special. Here, gathered together for the first time, are Lowell Fulson's early singles for the Kent label of Los Angeles, released between 1964 and 1966. The blues veteran (even back then) was signed to replace Kent's best selling artist B.B. King, who had left for ABC Paramount. Throughout, Lowell is in top form vocally and on guitar, aided by Maxwell Davis' inspiring arrangements. A real bonus is the quality of the songs, the majority of which are written by Fats Washington, who crafted R&B standards such as I'll Be Home and Pledging My Love.
It is hard to overestimate the importance of Black Nights, which was one of the last singles to be purchased almost exclusively by the black audience. Its impact betrays the rather meagre chart data: #11 R&B in early 1966 in a 12-week stay, and #91 on the Pop charts. Record man and researcher Donn Fileti owned a record shop at the time and fondly recalls: "Black Nights was one of those left-field hits that R&B retailers sold by the box lot to hordes of older customers starved for blues in a soul market dominated by Motown and Atlantic. The over-40 set that clamoured for Lowell Fulson's Kent 45 in our Hackensack, New Jersey shop were all tuned in to WNJR and WWRL where the single scored heavy airplay. Joe Martin's, Kent's Newark distributor, cautiously ordered 'half-a-deal' (500 45s at the usual distributor price of 46 cents each plus 150 free) on Black Nights. This was his initial standing order for every B.B. King 45 churned out monthly from Kent's busy Normandie Avenue plant. Black Nights had considerable legs and sold steadily in R&B locations for weeks after its departure from the national charts." It truly was blues for the brothers.
This compilation is the second in a trilogy of Lowell Fulson's recordings for the Modern Records Group and covers his bluesy period immediately prior to the funkier blues sounds of The Tramp Years (CDCHD 755). The inclusion of the first 10 Kent singles is augmented by three superior tracks from the Soul LP (Year Of 29 has outstanding piano work from Lloyd Glenn)-.-and two strong unissued performances, Lonely Lonely Man and I Won't Care Anymore. Once again, Dick Shurman contributes a note of insight and perception.
Perhaps leaving the best to last, the two-track master tapes have been folded back to glorious mono - as with the original singles - and remixed by engineer Duncan Cowell. The effect, musically and sonically, is quite shattering.
By John Broven