“Check your shelves” by Blues & Rhythm

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? Some this material was very familiar, some much less so. There is a moment  at the beginning of  ‘I Won’t Plead No More’ where James declaims soulfully – and unmistakably – whilst the Lacking vocalists make churchy  noises, and I found myself  wondering what was coming next: heavy duty funk? Soul classic? Black American anthem? No, what actually follows is a piece of late ’50s doo-wop flavoured r&b. James Brown burst onto the scene in 1956 with ‘ Please Please Please’, as impassioned a vocal performance as you’ll find in the ’50s – but he was  still very much  part of the times, rather than leading them. Many of these performances fall easily into the rocking, jumping blues bag, doo-wop ballads, or, as in the case of ‘Chonnie-On-Chon’, a little Richard flavoured slab of rock’n’roll.

As the set progresses, there is a sense of moving towards proto-soul – it is certainly present by ‘Try Me’ at the beginning  of the second disc, though the Ike Turner-esque blues of ‘Tell Me What I did  Wrong’ then dispels this a little, before ‘That’s When I Lost My Heart’ heralds the dawn  of soul with its hints of Sam Cooke. Things continue in this transitory vein  throughout CD two, but all the ingredients are certainly almost  there in ‘Think’ from February 1960. By the time we reach ‘I don’t Mind’ – the kind of track that now tends to be describeb as a blues ballad – strict categorisation is becoming  difficult though the change is subtle, and much of the remainder  of the final disc can be described in the same way. The soul elements at this time are really down to James’ impassioned vocal rather than any particular musical accompaniment – but isn’t that what soul is all about anyway? However, there is a very brief riff in ‘Love Don’t Nobody’ that presages ‘I Got  You (I Feel Good)’ – but then ‘And I do Just What ! Want’harks back, vocally and musically, to Little Richard!

Which brings us up to June 1961. Towards the end of the following year, James recorded his famed live album at The Apollo. That put him well on the way to his ‘Godfather Of Soul’ title, and as the notes to this set suggest, that was the beginning of a different phase of Brown’s career. The collection under consideration here presents James the gospel-based r&b vocalist – and mighty fine he is too. Check your shelves and if James Brown is not that well-represented, this is certainly worth checking out.
Norman Darwen – Blues & Rhythm