Lee Dorsey remains one of New Orleans' most inimitable stylists and underrated hitmakers. Unlike so many of the soul and r & b legends of his generation (he was born December 4, 1926), there is little shout in his style, and any gospel influences come filtered through Ray Charles. Dorsey was already 30 years old when he debuted on Johnny Vincent's Ace label with "Rock" in 1957. The next year, Allen Toussaint would play piano on "Lottie Mo" (first issued on Valiant) beginning a collaboration that would continue through most of Dorsey's career: rarely have singer and producer been so aptly matched. In 1961 "Ya Ya" (on Bobby Robinson's Fury label) became Dorsey's first national smash hit, and it was followed by several more sides and an album for the same label. In 1963 Smash released a superb single by Dorsey backed by the A.F.O. All-Stars, who also backed up the vocalist on a pair of singles on Chicago's Constellation label.
After two years in the military, Toussaint was back in New Orleans early in 1965. With Marshall Sehorn he created the Sansu label, affiliated with Amy/Bell Records, and the Sansu/Amy/Bell imprints would issue Dorsey and Toussaint's recordings through early 1970. "Ride Your Pony" was their first hit on the new label and the title track to the first of two superb Lee Dorsey albums released during this period. Sundazed has reissued both "Pony" and the followup, "The New Lee Dorsey" (1966) in greatly expanded editions, so that the two CDs - together gathering 47 tracks - now make available all of Dorsey's singles, and a few unissued gems as well, from 1965-70.
"Ride Your Pony" covers material from 1965 - 68, generally a bit earlier than the "New" set, which takes us from 1966 - 70. But the fact that Sundazed does not stick to a purely chronological approach only enhances the enjoyability and variety of both sets.
Dorsey's vocal persona is generally wry, warm, distinctive, and almost conversational. From the chicken scratch guitars and dance beat of "Pony" (a response of sorts to Jr. Walker's "Shotgun"), to the lazy rhythm and bemused tone of "Work Work Work" (with Dorsey characteristically improvising during the fade, "anybody got a cigarette?") the infectious funk and understated optimism of Dorsey's work is always a pleasure, and gets better the more you play it. His work is like a regular visit from an old friend, always welcome. Throughout this set and its companion CD Toussaint adds splendid piano, marvelous horn arrangements, and superb rhythm tracks from the cream of New Orleans' session pool, including Roy Montrell, June Gardner, Deacon John, and - starting around 1967 - The Meters. Other bonuses on "Pony" include both sides of a terrific Dorsey/Betty Harris duet from '67, the "Tighten Up"-inspired two-part "Four Corners," and much more. Dorsey could convey heartache when given the chance, and Toussaint's production formula is remarkably flexible. As usual with Sundazed reissues, the remastering is superb throughout, as are the graphics and Bill Dahl's liner notes. "Ride Your Pony" and "The New Lee Dorsey" are both highly recommended collections, and if you still want more check out Relic's "Ya Ya" for the early '60s material on Fury or the classic Polydor set "Yes We Can Can" (1970, issued in the US by Chronicles over a decade ago, and last year by Australia's Raven)