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Sings The Blues Sessions, CD (£11.50)
In case you hadn't noticed, Ace has been getting thoroughly stuck into its owned repertoire of late. Our extensive-bordering-on-exhaustive campaign to digitise every important RPM/Kent recording by B.B. King is well under way, the still-relatively new 10 inch series is coming on nicely and the long-awaited Modern Downhome series has been garnering all the critical plaudits it obviously merits. Next month will see the first volume 'proper' in our "Central Avenue Scene" series, which will initially draw its repertoire from Jake Porter's Combo imprint and eventually spread out to incorporate Modern and Recorded In Hollywood/Cash/Money recordings. And as well as all this, we're also about to give the Ace treatment to the Modern and Kent recordings of another acclaimed blues legend who fully deserves it, the great Jimmy Witherspoon.
We've had a toe in the water where Spoon is concerned for a number of years, via Ray Topping's excellent compilation of material from the man's first tenure with Modern 'Blowing In From Kansas City' (CDCHD 279). But now we're going for the full plunge, with a number of packages that will embrace all Spoon's recordings for the company from the late 40s to the early 60s. Most of this material has never been issued on CD before and, due to some ultra- intensive research of the Modern acetates, we will also be premiering some previously unknown and undocumented sides as we get deeper into the project.
We're kicking off this month with an expanded version of a great little album that Spoon cut for Joe Bihari at the tail end of the 50s, one that was first released - in two slightly different configurations - as Jimmy Witherspoon SINGS THE BLUES, on Modern's budget label Crown. A budget release it may well have originally been, but there was nothing 'budget' about its quality of musicianship, material or vocals, as this first time CD issue proves. Spoon's inimitable vocal style is ideally suited to the intimate, relaxed musical backup that Bihari surrounded him with here. And how nice it is to hear him paying tribute to his equally stellar contemporaries Nat "King" Cole (Gee Baby Ain't I Good To You), Billy Eckstine (Jelly Jelly), Wynonie Harris (Playful Baby), T-Bone Walker (Stormy Monday), Johnny Watson (She Moves Me), B.B. King (several tracks here), as well as a number of blues giants of a previous generation such as Leroy Carr (Blues Came Falling Down, How Long How Long Blues) and the first Sonny Boy Williamson (When My Heart Beats Like A Hammer).
As well as including everything that featured on either of the original issues of "Sings The Blues" - you'll have to see the sleevenotes for a more detailed explanation of the differences between the regular and "X"-suffixed versions! - project supervisor Roger Armstrong has embellished the original content of both with the addition of a further 13 tracks. These were either cut at the same time as, or shortly before or after, the sessions that produced the original vinyl issue. In titling this collection 'Sings The Blues Sessions' Ace may (or may not!) be being slightly economical with the truth, as no session details were filed on these recordings which were almost certainly cut, on the down-low, without the knowledge of the Los Angeles Musicians Union - seemingly a fairly regular occurrence for Joe Bihari at the time. But whether or not they were included on the original "Sings The Blues" albums, there's a cohesive feel to all of these tracks that itself confirms all notions that the sessions were conducted over a very brief period of time. And what is absolutely certain is that, individually and collectively, they capture Spoon in perhaps the best voice of his career, and wholly comfortable in the company of some expert west coasters who'd doubtless backed him on numerous prior occasions.
Whether the repertoire originated with B.B. King, Jody Reynolds or Hank Williams, Spoon treats it all with maximum respect and puts his own unique stamp on everything he sings here. Much as you would expect from a man whose vast body of work, for Modern and elsewhere, is among the most cherished of all blues legends.The title says it all really - Jimmy Witherspoon Sings The Blues. Doesn't he just!
By Tony Rounce