CD Reviews for 12/16/05 – Assorted Nashville R&B compilations by Dan Ferguson

Compact Capsules for 12/16/05
by Dan Ferguson

Various Artists
Night Train To Nashville: Music City Rhythm & Blues, 1945-1970, Volume 2
CMF/Lost Highway B0005228

Collections like Night Train to Nashville should be essential listening for any music fan who digs vintage rhythm & blues and soul music. And we’re not talking the 1980s and ’90s vintage. Its addition to the CD library is certainly guaranteed to instantly up the coolness factor of one’s collection, not to mention providing oodles of cool sounds in the process. The fact that these hot sounds have their origins in Nashville may raise an eyebrow or three out there. Some may find it hard to believe that once upon a time Nashville was more than country music and Music Row and the Grand Ole Opry. The 2004 two-disc compilation Night Train To Nashville: Music City Rhythm & Blues, 1945 – 1970 set the record straight on just how rich Nashville’s music heritage was when it came to R&B and high voltage boogie woogie rock and roll. Oh yeah, it also garnered a Grammy Award as the best historical recording for that year. As if a single volume wasn’t enough, along comes the second installment in this series. It presents 39 more attention-grabbing tracks of R&B with origins in Music City. Spanning the same time period as the first volume, the newly released second installment of Night Train To Nashville: Music City Rhythm & Blues further emphasizes the true diversity of the Nashville music scene. For black inhabitants of the Eastern half of Tennessee during the 1940s, 50s and into the ’60s, Nashville was their Harlem, New Orleans, and Chicago when it came to finding their music. At the epicenter of it all was the 50,000-watt Nashville radio station WLAC situated way up at 1510 on the AM dial. When it came to the late night airwaves in that region of the country, WLAC, whose signal blanketed much of the Eastern half of the country once darkness fell each evening, ruled the roost. Guiding the WLAC ship those evenings was a couple of disc jockeys, Bill “Hoss” Allen and John “John R” Richbourg. The two were chiefly responsible for turning the sleep-deprived masses onto a slew of scintillating R&B, blues, soul and gospel from cats like Ernie Birdsong, Arthur Gunter, Eddie Williams, Jimmy Reed and the like on a nightly basis. With Night Train To Nashville: Music City Rhythm & Blues, Volume 2, the celebration of that scene continues in glorious fashion with minimal artist overlap from the first volume. Being the capitol of country music, one of the more interesting aspects of the R&B scene is how it mixed with the country one, be it an R&B spin being put on a country song or a country artist teaming up with one from the R&B camp. Night Train To Nashville offers up a number of these moments with some of the finer ones including Helen Foster’s cover of country bandleader Pee Wee King’s “You Belong to Me”, Ted Jarrett’s “Love, Love, Love” which Webb Pierce took to the top of the charts, Clyde McPhatter backed by an all-white lineup of country session musicians on “Next To Me”, and Esther Phillips’ cover of “Release Me” which the likes of Ray Price and Kitty Wells struck gold with on the country charts. Still, it’s the straight-up R&B that is the true draw of this collection. There’s R&B barn burners like the 1-2-3 punch that begins the set, “Boogie Woogie Jockey” from Jimmy Sweeney, Richard Armstrong with “Gene Nobles’ Boogie”, and Ivory Joe Hunter tearing it up on “All States Boogie”. Add to that plenty of potent blues and soul sides (hats off to the inclusion of a selection from the late and unsung great Arthur Alexander) and the sum total is yet another highly recommended collection that no doubt will be bucking for the Grammy once more. Like the first go-round, Volume 2 also includes an informative booklet featuring extensive song notes, rare photos, and of course, some incredible music and performances. (Lost Highway Records c/o Universal Music Group, 10 Universal City Plaza, 4th Floor, Universal City, CA 91608, or

Various Artists
Shake What You Brought! The SSS Soul Collection
Sundazed SC 11154

Various Artists
My Goodness, Yes! The Silver Fox Soul Collection
Sundazed SC 11155

Keeping with the Nashville soul slant of this week’s lead capsule, New York State-based reissue house Sundazed Music also gets into the act with the release of a couple of compilations focusing on two labels headed up by Music Row veteran Shelby Singleton. Each hitting its stride from the late 1960s into the early 1970s, SSS International Records and Silver Fox Records were both pivotal starting points for a number of fine soul singers from that era, as well as landing pads for some road-tested acts on the supposed down side of their careers. Using his own initials to identify the operation, Singleton began SSS International Records in 1967 with releases running the gamut from pop to country to rock to soul. As demonstrated by Shake What You Brought! which offers up the best of the soul side of the house, SSS’s venture into soul music resulted in a number of noteworthy recordings. Shake What You Brought! gathers 20 of these a number of which are available here for the first time on compact disc. Singleton initially made his mark as a producer for Mercury Records in the early 1960s calling the shots for hit records from the likes of Clyde McPhatter, Brook Benton, and Leroy Van Dyke. The best known acts of the Shake What You Brought! batch are performers such as Bettye LaVette (a killer version of “Piece Of My Heart” that gives the Janis Joplin version a run for its money), New Orleans balladeer Johnny Adams with the uncharacteristically uptempo “Proud Woman”, blues legend Wilbert Harrison, and another New Orleans-based legend in singer Danny White. While the remaining acts are far from household names, the common thread running through all of Shake What You Brought! is that this is Southern Soul at its finest. Liner notes from author and Motown historian Bill Dahl provide the lowdown on all of the represented artists.

Singleton’s Silver Fox Records, also based out of Nashville, was a subsidiary of SSS International. Singleton formed the label in 1968 with Leland Rogers, older brother of country star Kenny Rogers and a veteran of the music business. Silver Fox’s direction was strictly soul music employing acts such as Hank Ballard (a cover of the Kris Kristofferson masterpiece “Sunday Morning Comin’ Down”), “Big” Al Downing, the aforementioned Bettye LaVette, Willie Hobbs (the fabulously deep soul of “Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em”) and Robert Parker. Like the Shake What You Brought! collection, My Goodness, Yes! brings together 20 of the best soul sides from Singleton’s Silver Fox subsidiary. Liner notes again come courtesy of writer Bill Dahl who gets to the bottom of each and every one of the 20 acts represented by this fine collection of Southern soul with a subtle dash of country. (Sundazed Music, P.O. Box 85, Coxsackie, NY 12051, or

(Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 – 9 pm on WRIU-FM 90.3. He lives in Peace Dale and can be reached at [email protected].)<...