Top positive review
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superb selection of ivory tinkling americana
on 6 March 2010
The theme of this tasty little box, in case it wasn't instantly obvious from the title, is songs prominently featuring piano, at least mid-tempo, in a barrelhouse/boogie woogie mode; less apparently, but hardly surprising, all the tracks were recorded in the USA between about 1942 and 1957. But the recordings come in a wide variety of styles, so there is pure boogie woogie, in some cases unaccompanied, there is much blues, rockabilly and rock and roll, ranging from the familiar (Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis) to the largely forgotten (Chuck Miller, whose berserk Boogie Blues is one of many highlights). And there is a sizeable amount of what could loosely be categorised as country, specifically the 40s/early 50s sub-genre known as hillbilly boogie. To modern ears, this bears a close resemblance to the Bill Haley strand of rock'n'roll, if a little more polite in the vocal department and with a pedal steel solo generally thrown in - it's heavily influenced by blues and boogie woogie and the bass is generally jumping. It's quite clear that despite the segregation enforced at the time, especially in the southern states, a lot of country musicians, especially the pianists on the evidence here, were listening to blues records well before they were being marketed to white people, and/or learning licks directly from blues musicians.
So this collection is a great, if possibly unintended, overview of the evolution of rock'n'roll from its antecedents in blues and hillbilly boogie, which makes Elvis's jumping countrified cover of a blues song in 1954 look a lot less groundbreaking than it's generally cracked up to be - Elvis was sexier, a better singer and recorded better songs but Haley and many others were there before him.
While the tracks here are well chosen and of an incredibly high standard, it's a shame to report that a couple of aspects of this compilation don't quite do justice to the music it contains. The first is the complete lack of any recording details, dates or even composers; the booklet contains a quite entertaining and informative essay by Stuart Coleman but mentions of specific songs and artists are not in any way releated to the order in which they appear on the discs. More seriously, the sound quality is rather disappointing on some tracks - while none are anywhere near unlistenable, several have a slight harshness or "phasiness" about the sound that suggests careless mastering or overdone restoration. Some have certainly been available in better quality elsewhere. If I have a quibble over the largely excellent selection, it's that only 9 of the 75 tracks feature the very individual pianistic stylings of New Orleans, but a gold star is deserved for including Professor Longhair's fabulous, lurching Ball The Wall. Perhaps a separate compilation of New Orleans pianists is in order?
But despite those quibbles, at the price it's too good to ignore - there can be few higher callings in life than boogie pianist and this box contains numerous excellent examples of the craft - there is very little music on here that isn't hugely enjoyable. It also deserves credit for making those blues and rock'n'roll fans who might be a bit sniffy about country listen to, and enjoy, the likes of Tennessee Ernie Ford, Merrill E. Moore and Moon Mullican. So 5 stars for the music, one subtracted for the relatively minor lapses of sound quality.