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Mellow Cats 'N' Kittens: Hot R&B And Cool Blues 1946-52, CD (£11.50)
Working on the repertoire Ace owns is an often daunting, but never less than rewarding, task. Whether it be drawn from Combo, Modern, Cash/Money/RIH or whatever, it's always a pleasure to get stuck into the assembly of another great package of 40s/50s R&B and, as maybe Ace's most currently-active A&R guy in this area (with respect to my equally-enthusiastic colleagues Broven, J., and Gibbon, P.), it's fair to say that I get more pleasure out of doing so than most! Since I first came to Ace in September 2001, barely a week has gone by when I have not been working on some kind of vintage R&B package, and I hope that continues to be the case for a long time to come!
Of course, where Modern especially is concerned, it's a double delight to be able to work on anything from the company's peak years. Currently I'm fine-tuning the long awaited second and final volume of Little Willie Littlefield, as well as two more Hadda Brooks sets that will all feature an impressive amount of previously unissued material. And its largely as a result of working on the latter sets that the project you're reading about here and now came to fruition (as well as more than one potential follow up volume to it!).
To make the Willie and Hadda projects as definitive as possible. I had requested the transference to DAT of all the hitherto-uncopied acetates by both artists. In the course of doing this, the guys at SML found that several of the acetates that were credited to Hadda, were actually by other artists like Butch Stone, the Three Bits Of Rhythm and Scatman Crothers. As it happens, I had been looking at introducing a Modern" line in Ace's 'Central Avenue' series for quite a while. The quality of the unissued and unreissued sides that SML were coming up with in the course of transferring Mr. Littlefield and Ms. Brooks' unheard works made it so much easier to do so, as you'll hear!
As with the previously released "Central Avenue Speakeasy", "Mellow Cats And Kittens", takes you straight to the heart of the West Coast's Post-WWII Rhythm and Blues explosion, providing a window on a world that's long since vanished and that we will never see the like of again, more's the pity. The 'cats and kittens' may themselves be mellow, but the music herein is usually anything but, as titles like "I Want To Rock 'n' Roll", "Good, Good Wine" and "Jake's Boogie In D Flat" imply. This is about as good a representation of the sounds and styles you would encounter if you were a young black man or woman out for a night on L.A.'s famous Central Avenue anytime during the late 40s. Even though not everything here was recorded in Los Angeles, it all has that Central vibe and is all the better for having it. You may well find it incredible that only 5 of these takes have ever been released before. I, for one, most certainly did...
However you take your R&B you'll find much to enjoy here. The all-pervading influence of Louis Jordan can be heard in Butch Stone's terrific recordings, and also in sides by Jake Porter, Bubber Cyphers and Scatman Crothers, while the cooler sounds of the King Cole Trio and the Three Blazers permeate the work of the Three Bits Of Rhythm and the trios of Herb Fisher and the endearingly-named Peter Rabbit. The emergence of the R&B vocal group is represented in early sides by the Robins and the Dick Lewis orchestra - the latter featuring the Barons, who included in their number the young Marvin Phillips of Marvin and Johnny/Jesse fame. The enormously popular 'blues shouting' styles of Joe Turner and Wynonie Harris naturally get a look in, too, courtesy of T-99 and 'Spoon respectively. We even feature a bit of unashamedly Californian small-group blues, via Tiny Webb. And it goes without saying that our litter of 'kittens' all owes something to 'The Queen' herself, HRH Dinah Washington. Across the board, this was pretty much what R&B was about back then, and these exceptional artists and recordings bring the Central scene to life so memorably that you will be able to smell the cigarette smoke and taste the whiskey as vividly as if you were seeing it all unfold in person...
...And, as stated earlier, there's plenty more where this came from. This month's Smokey Hogg CD release is both pertinent to, and part of, the whole West Coast R&B scene of the time, and another sizzlin' slab from the Central Avenue scene is on its way with the imminent release of "Central Rocks!", our second multi-artist collection of Combo recordings, which will be out in November 2004 and which - like this one - will largely concentrate its efforts on the more uptempo side of post-WWII black music...
...Meanwhile, here's enough full-cream R&B to satisfy the thirstiest - AND the mellowest! - cat or kitten. Too "Miaow"-vellous for words, and that's a fact, Jack!
By Tony Rounce"