on 28 April 2015
What the world had been waiting for? Maybe not the world, but me anyway, and, judging by the positive reviews, quite a few others. I first tuned in to this style of music way back in 1975 via the purchase of "The Other Song of the South: Louisiana Rock’n’Roll", a 16 track LP lovingly put together by Bill Millar, which introduced me to the likes of Opelousas hero Rod Bernard, the amazing Cookie & the Cupcakes, Jivin' Gene from Port Arthur and more. Since then, in spite of valiant efforts from Ace Records and the late Charlie Gillett, we've never had a definitive set of swamp pop goodies compiled on CD. Up to now, or up to 2012 when this set was released, that is.
Almost all the BIG records are here: Cookie & the Cupcakes with "Mathilda", the Guitar Gable/King Karl version of "This should go on forever", Jimmy Clanton's "Just a dream", Joe Barry's "I'm a fool to care", Jivin' Gene's "Breaking up is hard to do", Phil Phillips' immortal "Sea of love" and the title track (from Bobby Charles) of course. These are all classics of the genre. If you think you know rock'n'roll but you don't know these then give them a listen.
Dropping to a slightly more obscure level there are plenty of tracks which should be in every swamp pop collection: Buck Rogers' "Crazy baby", Elton Anderson's "The secret of love", Tibby Edwards bringing out something of a country flavour on "Forever is a long time", the tragic Jimmy Donley with the song that seemed to sum him up, "Born to be a loser", Jimmy Wilson's "Please accept my love", Guitar Jr's "Family Rules", the Warren Storm version of "Prisoner's song" (with a nod to Fats), Johnnie Allen's "Lonely days, lonely nights" and Jivin' Gene's "Going' out with the tide".
If I was going to be nit picking I'd say that I wish they had managed to find space for Dale & Grace's "I'm leaving it all up to you", T.K. Hulin's "Graduation Night" and Guitar Gable/King Karl's "Irene" but would suspect at least a couple of these were ruled out because of release dates. I am assuming that the tracks in this set were only available to the compiler via the 50 year PD ruling.
Everything I've mentioned so far fits most definitions of swamp pop to a tee - slow music combining the self pity of certain country laments with blues expressiveness, realised via hammered pianos and churning bass riffs very often featuring mournful saxes. And there are many, many more examples of the genre in this set from artists of even greater obscurity (if that is possible).
Perhaps as (relatively) light relief the compiler has included a minority of tracks which fall more in that much wider category of Louisiana Rock'n'roll. Some show aspects of other music popular in the SW Louisiana / SE Texas area - Cajun, Zydeco, Blues and R&B. These include some positively glorious tracks that just couldn't have come from anywhere else. Like Phil Bo's remarkable "She wears my ring", Guitar Jr's early rocker "The Crawl", Rockin' Sidney's stonking "You ain't nothin' but fine", the Boogie Ramblers' gently rolling "Cindy Lou" and Bobby Charles' fine version of "Let the four winds blow" (Mr Domino is never that far away in this set)
Swamp pop was (and still is) a rather strange form of music whereby the audience gain pleasure from a performer's expression of misery. Is this empathy or what? Earlier performers like Buddy Holly (and later, Del Shannon) had got a lot of traction from a combination of downer lyrics coupled with upbeat melody and performance. There's an example in this set. In Jivin' Gene's "I cried" there's a total disconnect between the brightness (brittleness?) of the performance and those words. But that's not swamp pop where the dolefulness is largely echoed in the music. I hear you say what about blues? Isn't this the same? Often it's not. So many blues offer wry comment or an ironic view on life. Rarely are they downright miserable. What both forms of music do share of course is a very restricted melodic and chordal format.
And for those who've stumbled into this and are wondering about the "samishness" of the songs, well that is something you could say about the blues, particularly from one artist or one region. After a time the differences start to show and often these have a charm of their own.
Enough ruminating. For the neophyte this set offers an overview of the Swamp Pop genre that's just not available elsewhere. For the converted there's still likely to be loads here that you haven't got. Like Shreveport rocking lady Margaret Lewis with a Jimmy Reed like "Goin' to St Louis", like a wholly unexpected "Slop and Stroll Jolie Blonde", like a recording in French from Joe Barry under his real name Josef Barrios, etc., etc.