The Return of Bill Black’s Combo ‘2 Albums Plus Singles’ (Jasmine) 3/5

Born in Memphis, Tennessee, and originally a bass player, Bill Black became the leader of a combo that catapulted to chart success in the United States with a mixture of R & B influenced instrumentals, covering famous songs of the day. He was a staple musician at Sun records in Memphis, and was hired on some of Elvis Presley’s early sides, most notably, ‘That’s alright’ and backed him on live performances. These two albums contained within are examples of the Hi label that would later be known for the soul-blues of Syl Johnson, Ann Peebles, and of course Al Green. The group enjoyed brief success and hit the big time in 1960 with, ‘Smokie Pt.2’ and especially, ‘White silver sands’, from the same year. In total, they would enjoy nineteen singles on the US charts. As for the music from these two albums that date from 1961, covers of, Ray Charles’ ‘What I’d say’, ‘Be bop A-Lula’ and an ode to, ‘Hey Bo Diddley’, on the first album and, ‘Smokie Part II’, Chuck Berry’s, ‘Johnny B. Goode’ and a taste of the exotica with the evocative sounding, ‘Hot Taco’, are among the stronger numbers. Instrumental pop-driven R & B with hints of jazz has its limits and the music had a tendency over time to become a tad formulaic. Enjoyed in small doses, the music is agreeable on the ears and has a fresh and uninhibited feel, if not necessarily endowed with any deeper intellectual interest.

Tim Stenhouse