I feel like I'm beating my head against the wall as far as even bothering to write this review. Yes, this very fine collection of Herman "Little Junior" Parker's music is a European release, and is only available there. In the U.S. it's even harder to find-so why write a review at all? Because Parker's fine sides are going the way of a number of other artists-into the memories of a relatively few people who still remember him. In this day of instant pop "glory", musicians like Parker are being forgotten, and relegated to small labels (if at all), with (usually) very limited notoriety and availability. It's sad to see great music (especially in the jazz and blues genres) become difficult or impossible to find on "the shelves". If you've heard Parker's music, and want to find this release-good luck. His music is worth it. It's taken over 40 years since his death, for this fine collection of Parker's first ten years of music to appear.
The accompanying 15 page booklet contains a short, concise essay on Parker and his music. Also included are several great photos of Parker, color reproductions of record labels and album covers. Most important is a discography of all the tracks in this collection. Especially with hot players like Johnny Ace (piano), Matt Murphy (guitar), Earl Forest (drums), Ike Turner (piano), Pat Hare Guitar), Roy Gaines (guitar), Red Holloway (tenor sax), Arnett Cobb (tenor sax), James Booker (piano), Clarence Holliman (guitar), and Wayne Bennett (guitar), and a number of unidentified horn players and rhythm section personnel.
Why "Little Junior" Parker isn't well known (or relatively known) is a real mystery. He was finally voted into The Blues Hall of Fame 30 years after his death in 1971. His vocal style smoothed out the rough spots somewhat-but he was capable of tearing off a pain wracked vocal when he wanted to, and his harmonica style (similar to both Sonny Boy Williamson I and II) accented his vocals. He became so proficient on the harp that he was invited to join Williamson II's band, when Williamson wasn't available. He wasn't a true blues artist-rather more of an R&B stylist with distinct blues leanings. He could sing in a harder yet soulful R&B style and then switch to a smoother style sometimes reminiscent of the great Charles Brown, or Bobby Bland just as easily. But a number of his songs were in the blues vein, but sometimes without the gritty vocals or slashing guitar of more "exciting" period Delta blues artists. Possibly because Parker recorded more for the R&B market (where he was popular) kept him out of the limelight during the blues boom when blues artists were being "discovered" in the 60's. That and the fact that he died young (age 39) of a brain tumor pretty much sealed his musical coffin. Maybe if Parker had concentrated on the soul market, he'd be more well known today.
This set collects Parker's singles and other tracks from his most potent period, the years 1952-61, and most of his best music is here. For those who have heard his work for the Sun or Duke labels, this set is an extension of those collections. Tracks come from the Duke, Sun, Modern, Kent, Charly, and Ace labels. Well known songs "Feelin' Good", and "Mystery Train" are here as well as other tracks ("Sittin', Drinkin', and Thinkin'", both the Duke and Sun versions, "That's Alright", "Pretty Baby", "Barefoot Rock") which are just as good. His bands were pretty good too, usually consisting of a guitarist, rhythm section, and horns. The horns accent Parker's soulful vocals, and fill in to add depth when called for. This made for some great music which was very popular in the singles market.
All in all, this is a good set of Parker's abilities, abilities that should have catapulted him into the front ranks of period vocalists. Even many blues fans have never heard of Parker, let alone heard his music. The various compilations of his best sides always seem to be deleted rather quickly, or don't enjoy much notoriety. Probably the best, easiest to find single set is the one on Rounder Records ("Mystery Train"), or possibly "Drivin' Wheel"-another set named after one of his fine songs. Parker had everything in order to "make it". Why that didn't happen is a real mystery, but this set brings his best work into the clear light of day. Hopefully this will get picked up by a U.S. label for wider distribution-but looking at the record "industry" as it now (weakly) stands, my hopes aren't too high. Blues fans need to hear this collection. Try and find it.