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V/A - Legendary Rockin’ R&B: A Collection of Ultra Rare Black Rockers from the 50s and Early 60s

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Artist: V/A

Album: Legendary Rockin’ R&B: A Collection of Ultra Rare Black Rockers from the 50s and Early 60s

Label: BBE

Review date: Dec. 3, 2010

For those familiar with his name, Keb Darge is best known as a crate-digging DJ of deep funk and “northern soul” records — danceable American obscurities re-appropriated by Mod-outgrowth dance clubs in northern England in the late 1960s and ‘70s. According to BBE Records, Darge has been “ahead of the curve of the tastemakers” in underground U.K. clubs that are now moving from deep funk to R&B of the ‘50s and ‘60s. That may be an overstatement, but the tracks on Darge’s new compilation Legendary Rockin’ R&B: A Collection of Ultra Rare Black Rockers from the 50s and Early 60s are unlikely to be familiar to any but bona fide U.K. scenesters and serious enthusiasts of R&B-cum-rock ‘n roll. Like several other similar compilations Darge has released — including the joint effort with Paul Weller, Lost and Found: Real R’n’B and Soul — the sound of Legendary Rockin’ R&B is markedly different from that of northern soul or deep funk compilations, of which the supply (though not the quality) appears to be far greater.

That said, there’s an obvious kinship between Legendary Rockin’ R&B and the sound more often associated with the dance scene spawned by famed northern soul venues such as Wigan Casino and the Twisted Wheel. Like the Motown-esque numbers from a decade later that dominated the northern soul heyday, Keb Darge’s new selections of early R&B with emphatic backbeat are frenetic and eminently danceable. K.C. Mojo Watson’s “Love Blood Hound,” for instance, is a 12-bar blues on speed led by bass, pounded piano and staccato sax that eventually breaks out into a swirling solo. With its train sounds, mysterious horn-groove and eerie backing chorus, Harold Jackson’s “The Freedom Riders” sounds like the soundtrack to a sweat-fueled night at an urban juke joint on the cusp of the electric revolution in blues.

More rewarding than the fast-paced numbers, however, are the sultrier grooves closer to their roots in the blues tradition. Teddy (Mr. Bear) McRae’s “Hi Fi Baby,” for instance, is a healthy dose of snarl and swagger — just a bit peppier and less grave than something Howlin’ Wolf might have recorded. Likewise, Big Maybelle’s “That’s a Pretty Good Love” — an obscure cut by one of the few artists here with any name recognition — revivals Koko Taylor’s “Wang Dang Doodle” for hip-swaying sexiness. Junior Wells’s “Lovey Dovey Lovey One” is more clean cut, but it’s still an excellent up-tempo love-blues, with Wells’s clean electric lines playing crisp counterpoints to his straightforward, if not quite humdrum vocals.

Legendary, ultra rare, or neither, the cuts here showcase the kind of raw rock ‘n’ roll that effaces any clear boundary between that nascent genre and the hard-driving rhythm and blues from which it emerged.

By Benjamin Ewing

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