The only other review of this album uses the adjective "unsung" to describe the band. I'd go further and say "unknown". I've always been into r'n'r and its roots and derivatives and the first I heard of them was on the early Jerry Lee albums on Smash/Mercury before he achieved his reincarnation in the world of country. He covered both "Mathilda" and "Got you on my mind" - I gathered that he'd been on tour with the band just prior to the recording though, of course, he does come from Louisiana so may have been familiar with them anyway. I next picked up on the band via Bill Millar's excellent compilation album "The other song of the south : Louisiana Rock'n'Roll" which contained a copuple of their tracks. Then, nothing until those marvellous people at Ace released this excellent album with 30, yes 30, great tracks.
To say these guys - and gals, because the great Carol Fran is included - are swamp pop is to understate their impact. Yes, they're swamp pop but swamp pop with attitude. This music really does sound as if it comes deep from the swamps. Whereas the typical white swampie tends to be at least a bit suicidal this lot seem to be almost joyous to be in this state. Compare their "Breaking up is hard to do" with the original by Jivin' Gene to see what I mean. You can visualise the band in a sweaty southern dance hall somewhere in Lafayette say, or Lake Charles, belting the songs out with the audience joining in on the big numbers like "Matilda". It's largely music for dancing. The slowies, and swampies mainly come pretty slow, are there for the smooching. There's a sort of celebratory thing going on - much of the stuff contained here sounds almost majestic (which may in part be due to the overall resonance and depth of the sound in spite of the sometimes evident, not-too-great state of the originals).
Musically there are loads of things happening - some blues, bits of gospel, classic R&B, boogie piano, clanguorous guitar, honking saxes, occasional doowop, instrumental tracks, a Platters cover, Ivory Joe Hunter's classic "I almost lost my mind", Phil Philips' big swamp number "Sea of Love", loads of great songs - and it's all very, very good. Why their place in r'n'r or R&B history - the label doesn't matter - hasn't been cemented by now who knows, but it should have. It may not be that well realised but this band were there at the beginning of swamp pop which is often seen as a cajun white phenomenon - they'd written and were performing Mathilda back in 1957 - and they should be credited for their part in its evolution. So, the more people who buy this the better. But on second thoughts, don't worry about history, just buy it to enjoy it because you will!
on 22 April 2010
Louisiana band Cookie & The Cupcakes are undoubtedly the greatest unsung heroes of 50s R&B. They were firmly in the rolling piano-led New Orleans tradition but with their integral horn section and a stinging guitarist, they could handle a whole gumbo of styles from jump-blues to pop to ballads, although they're best known for the 1958 swamp pop classic 'Mathilda' (here in both the original and 1962 versions). Fats Domino and Allen Toussaint's many New Orleans productions are obvious points of reference, but The Cupcakes had a consistently distinctive sound even though they recorded with a number of vocalists, apart from Cookie Thierry (including Carol Fran on a couple of sides). This fantastic compilation is well up to Ace's usual standards and given that it was released in 1997, I'm simply amazed that it hasn't been reviewed before on Amazon. Buy it, you won't regret it.