This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.
Cream Of The Crate Reviews 1 to 50 were vinyl album reviews. The following fifty reviews (51 - 100) were originally marked as CD Reviews 1 - 50 and this numbering has been kept to keep consistency with the published CD reviews.
This is number six in the series of albums I’m featuring as part of an on-going retrospective of CD’s in my personal collection.
The series is called, “Cream of The Crate (CD’s)”, and they represent CD albums that I believe are of significant musical value, either because of their rarity, because they represent the best of a style or styles of music or because their is something unique about the group or the music.
CD boxed sets have featured heavily so far in my retro-CD reviews and this is to be expected.
What CD’s allowed record companies to do was to go back through their catalogues and not just re-release older material, but to repackage and present thematic musical styles at a price that could not be matched with the older vinyl medium.
In fact it provide the listener with a large selection that would have taken many, many vinyl albums.
This boxed set is indeed of those thematic packages, and it’s a beauty!
The set is titled “Doctors / Professors / Kings & Queens – The Big Ol’ Box of New Orleans”. It is a set of four CD’s and was released in 2004 on the Shout Factory Label (D4K 37441).
It has 75 tracks that represent one of the most amazing collection of New Orlean based artists, or artists that had a connection with New Orleans. It would be a major undertaking to simply list all the artists, so I leave it to you to discover as you check out the track listings.
I have made a point of discussing the accompanying booklets that seem to come with all boxed sets and in last weeks review on the Oz Sixties compilation, I wrote: “The accompanying ‘booklets’ to boxed sets generally fall into two categories. The first is the fantastic (like previous reviews on Robert Johnson, Bob Dylan and The Fugs), while the second is the pathetic such as that with with the Robin Trower CD, reviewed two weeks ago“.
Well it’s a big call but this might just be the best accompanying book yet!
The only thing that’s stops me being definitive on this, is the quality of the research in the Johnson book and the track analysis in the Dylan book.
This is probably a little behind in both those categories, but the quality of the production and the wonderful plates in it, brings it about up as equal, if not marginally ahead.
Let’s not split hairs – it is a very good piece of work and I will also share some of the wonderful plates with you, throughout this review!
Before delving into the contents of the book or indeed looking at the tracks, it’s probably a good time and place to share with you, the amazing breadth of talent on the four CD’s.
Rather than tediously listing all the tracks, I provide for you shots of the listings as they appear on the four CD’s.
Hell, here I am at CD #1 and I’m almost stuck, stuck because of the richness of the talent.
We have “Fat’s Domino“, the man some say invented ‘Rock and Roll’ although Fat’s, whenever he was confronted with such statements would just say, “I just kept playing the same New Orleans rhythm & blues I’ve been playing for many years.”
The track “I’m Walking“, is indeed a Domino classic. I have included it in the video section of this retro-review.
Then there is Dr. John, Louis Armstrong, Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry, Ernie K-Doe, Jelly Roll Morton, Huey (Piano) Smith and Clifton Chenier, all artists with many hits and widely loved.
They are quintessential New Orleans artists whose styles cover a wide range of tastes. In the end I have chosen “BeauSoleil” and the track “Zydeco Gris-Gris” to feature in this review.
BeauSoleil are a group that are in fact based in Lafayette, but they bring to this CD the sounds of the traditional cajun music, music heavily influenced by New Orleans jazz, Caribbean music and zydeco music, the music of the Creoles.
The group members are brothers Michael Doucet (fiddle, vocals) and David Doucet (guitar, vocals), Jimmy Breaux (accordion), Billy Ware (percussion), Tommy Alesi (percussion), and Mitchell Reed (bass, fiddle).
What can I say except it is fantastic ‘good-time’ music and you can imagine these guys kicking up a storm in some New Orleans club.
Zydeco Gris- Gris
There is not only a variety of artists on each CD, but styles, so I figured why not feature the ‘Zydeco‘ style of music from CD#1.
While it may not be anymore important than the other styles – Jazz and R&B to name two, it is a style certainly associated with New Orleans.
One of the many masters of this style is certainly Clifton Chenier.
Remember the title of the CD includes: Doctors (we have Doctor John), Professors (Professor Longhair), and if we want to identify the KING on this CD then we cannot go past the “King of Zydeco” – who IS Clifton Chenier!
The fusion of Creole music, Blues and R&B that makes up what is Creole, was first made popular by Boozoo Charvis, (who features on this CD) and it was he who beat Chenier to the ‘punch’ by a few months.
However, as good as Charvis is (and he IS good), Clifton Chenier undeniably made zydeco what it is!
He is the master of the piano accordion and there are stories of people making fun of the accordion but being stopped in their tracks when Chenier begins to play.
He is accompanied by his brother, Cleveland, on frottoir.
Now technically zydeco is not a form that had its origins in New Orleans. In fact it originated in rural southeast Louisiana. However it has not just become an important part of the New Orleans music heritage, it was so popular that many people believed that’s where it originated.
The track that is included on the CD is an absolute classic in itself, having been covered by many groups and artists, and played styles.
That track is “Jambalaya” – and strangely (or is it?), I think that the zydeco version maybe the best version of all those great other versions.
Now there are apparently many young players calling themselves ‘King This’ and ‘King That’, but there was and forever will be, only one true King of Zydeco and that is Clifton Chenier!
This CD had many artists I had never come across prior to obtaining this boxed set.
In fact except for Earl King, Irma Thomas, Buckwheat Zydeco, The Neville Brothers and Boozoo Charvis, the other 14 artists were new to me.
The first is by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
It seems silly to look at the music of New Orleans and not present the jazz aspect and when the track is the well known well loved “St. James Infirmary”, it self selects.
The great thing about the Preservation Hall Jazz Band is that it has a constantly rotating membership.
The story goes that Preservation Hall, founded by Allan Jaffe in 1961, is where you go to find the purest jazz in New Orleans.
It was consciously set up as a place where all the old great jazz players could get together and play and the hall features live music every night.
So when the members of the various ensembles get together to play, they do so under the name of the “Preservation Hall Jazz Band“.
St James Infirmary Blues is based upon an old English folk song called “The Unfortunate Rake” (which was about a soldier who used all his money on prostitutes and dies of a venereal disease).
Now while there is little evidence to support the story, the title is supposed to be based upon the old St James Hospital that was in London.
Made famous initially by Louis Armstrong in 1928, there are a multitude of versions and I’m not sure that anyone knows how many versions there are.
Certainly by 1930 there had been 18 different versions recorded and since then many more have been recorded.
I’m certain that each of us has their own favourite version.
St. James Infirmary
“I went down to St. James Infirmary, Saw my baby there, Stretched out on a long white table, So cold, so sweet, so fair. Let her go, let her go, God bless her, Wherever she may be, She can look this wide world over, But she’ll never find a sweet man like me.”(Louis Armstrong version)
Keeping with the jazz theme, the next artist and track is Tuba Fats Chosen Few Brass Band and “Mardi Gras in New Orleans“.
Born Anthony Lacenin in September 1950, Tuba Fats was New Orleans’ most famous tuba player and played traditional New Orleans jazz and blues for over 40 years.
He was born, spent most of his life in and died in, New Orleans. He passed away in in January 2004.
He was, by all accounts, one of New Orleans well known and loved Trad Jazz musicians.
Like many of his contemporaries he often played in the ‘Preservation Hall’ and when not playing there he was most likely playing around New Orleans with his best known outfit, “The Chosen Few Brass Band.”
The compilers of this boxed set added him as a tribute to his work, and used a superb brass band version of Professor Longhair’s carnival classic, “Mardi Gras in New Orleans“.
Mardi Gras in New Orleans (In part)
The third CD has a few relatively unknown artists but certainly also boasts of many well known musicians and singers, and maybe surprisingly, many had hits on the contemporary pop charts.
So I think it is appropriate to acknowledge and play a couple of tracks by these artists.
Shirley and Lee are great examples of the New Orleans R&B music. Some folk may recoil at the thought of ‘hit/pop’ music representing the sound of New Orleans – but it was truly a melting pot of sounds styles and Shirley and Lee (known as the ‘Sweethearts of Blues‘) were excellent representatives.
Both Shirley (Mae Goodman) and (Leonard) Lee were strong vocalists and had a number of hits of which “Let The Good Times Roll” was one of the two. Oh, the other being – Feel So Good. Let the Good Times Roll was the one that catapulted them into fame resulting in them charting in both the R&B charts and the Billboard Singles Chart.
Let The Good Times Roll
Another great New Orleans R&B artist who was successful in the pop/hit world was Chris Kenner.
The track is, “I Like It Like That” and it is launched with a classic New Orleans-style piano riff, played by none other than Allen Toussaint.
Toussaint is a man much in demand and much revered and who has collaborated with the likes of Elvis Costello, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Band, Paul McCartney, Aaron Neville, Dr. John, Jerry Garcia, Phish, Plant and scores of others.
In fact Allen Toussaint produced this single and it has been one of the steadfast R&B singles since its release in 1961.
Having commenced his working career as a boxer and dockside worker, Chris Kenner was writing songs and singing in gospel groups, including one group with Earl King.
His break came when he convinced Imperial Records that his song, “Sick and Tired” was worth a listen. Listen they did and they liked what they heard and recorded him singing it in 1957.
Kenner followed this hit up with some classics including “Land of A Thousand Dances” and “Something You Got” So while “Dances” became his best known work, “I Like It Like That – Part 1” was the big hit selling almost a million copies (a lot back then) reaching #2 on both the R&B charts.
I Like It Like That
So to the final CD!
There is quite an amazing range of artists on this album as well, and so there is a range of styles.
The first track on this CD in fact features a man who is undoubtedly THE man when it comes to New Orleans Piano – Professor Longhair.
In fact if there is one man who is cherished above all others with the exception of ‘Pops‘ (George Murphy) in terms of New Orleans musicians – and with a special place in new “Orleans Music Heaven”, it is Professor Longhair.
Born Henry Roeland “Roy” Byrd in 1918, it took him until 1949 to make his first recording.
He quickly established his trademark trilling triplets with his right hand and drove a syncopated bass line with his left. It was his technique that in fact influenced countless New Orleans musicians.
Doctor John called him the “Father of New Orleans Piano“, and maestro Allen Toussaint dubbed him “The Bach of Rock“.
He never became a popular artist mainly because of his style of playing and his ‘choked’ vocals were too weird for the public. However among New Orleans music fans and, especially his peers, he was revered!
The 1954 recording of Tripitina will forever be a milestone in his career.
A very enigmatic track that has had musicians, researchers, music academics and fans fascinated with its meaning, it still remains today the matter of debate as to what the lyrics really mean. It doesn’t help that they were never written down by Fess (as he was affectionately known).
Tipitina tra la la la
Whoa la la la-ah tra la la
Tipitina, oola malla walla dalla [little mama wants a dollar]
Tra ma tra la la
Hey Loberta, oh poor
Loberta Girl you hear me callin’ you
Well you’re three times seven,
baby Knows what you want to do
Say Loberta, oh poor
Loberta Girl, you tell me where you been
When you come home this mornin’,
honey You had your belly full o’ gin
I’ll say hurry, hurry, come on Lobetta
Girl, you have company waiting for you at home
Why don’t you hurry little Loberta girl, hurry
Don’t leave that boy alone
Tipitina tra la la la
Whoa la la la-ah tra la la la
Tipitina, hoola malla walla dalla
Tra ma ti na na
Come on baby, we’re going ballin’
We’re gonna have ourselves a good time
We gonna hoola tralla walla malla dalla
Drink some mellow wine
It became so well known, that in 1977 an old club in New Orleans was renamed Tripitina, both to honor the man, and the track.
So to the final track being reviewed on the final CD.
Not an easy choice with artists ranging from the piano pumpin’ “Little Richard” through to “Sachmo, Louis Armstrong“. But I listened through again and read and read and suddenly the track self-selected.
It turns out to be Benny Spellman and “Lipstick Traces” (on your collar).
Benny Spellman had a mixed career. Lipstick was indeed his biggest hit and was recorded in 1962.
Benny also recorded the first version of ‘Fortune Teller‘, a track made famous by many artists, not the least being the Rolling Stones.
This single was actually a double A-side with “Lipstick Traces” on one side and “Fortune Teller” on the other.
Both singles are have writing credits to Naomi Neville, who was in fact, Allen Toussaint!
Spellman has a smooth bass voice and this track may not be too everyone’s taste, but, if you are a Baby Boomer this track should at the very least bring back memories because it had mega airplay.
Again this reinforces the fact that so much class pop music came out of New Orleans in addition to blues, jazz, zydeco and the like.
If you listen carefully to this track and then listen to Ernie K. Doe’s Mother-in-law, you will now recognise that it is Benny Spellman singing the backing track tothat track.
So, to wrap up this rather lengthy review.
Well, I guess I could do it in two words – “IT’S GREAT”!
And it is! It’s a fantastic boxed set.
I loved the little quirks that the set producers introduced. If you take the track listing cover out of the CD’s, it reveals a quirky picture that will represent something that might be associated with the New Orleans scene.
This is from CD#3
I’ll leave it to those of you who have, or get, a copy of this set to discover the other three CD’s.
From the high quality book to the amazing and broad selection of New Orleans music styles, the producers have managed to fit in a phenomenal number of tracks.
They have worked just as hard to give us a fine representative selection of New Orleans artists, all deserving to be represented.
Unlike many ‘revival’ music sets, care has been taken in regard to sourcing the original tracks (no re-recorded garbage here), and yet, they have done a good job of removing what must have been substantial surface noise from those early tapes.
So is it available?
Yes it is!
A quick tour around the net bought up four copies ranging from around Au$40.00 upward.
Seriously, it is a set worth having but keep your eyes open for the comments on the quality – the CD’s are important but so IS the bookletI
So, if you go shopping on-line, make sure you check that the booklet is included as the pictures and stories make it worth the money.
I have tried to locate a live version of one track from each of the four CD’s. The quality of some are certainly better than others.
Fats Domino – I’m Walking
Buckwheat Zydeco – Hot Tamale Baby
Red Stick Ramblers – Main Street Blues
Troy Andrews – Ohh Poo Pah Doo
Dr John [Mac Rebennack] – Right Place, Wrong Time
Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:
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