Various ‘R&B Hipshakers Volume 4 : Bossa Nova and Grits’ CD or 10 x 7″ Box Set (Vampi Soul) 4/5

rnb-hipshakers-vol-4Trawling through the vaults of the Federal and King labels for those classic 45s is where this compilation is at and it is in fact three years since the last volume came out. Among the more familiar names. there are some lesser known gems and chronologically, this covers the period 1954-1967, with an emphasis on the early part of the 1960s when R & B continued to dominate both the airwaves and juke boxes. Compiled by My Fine Wine of station WFMU, this is a selection steeped in blues grooves and Amos Milburn personifies this on the gritty ‘Same old thing’ that is a compilation highlight. Better known as a songwriter, for Little Stevie Wonder most notably, Clarence Paul offers the ska-flavoured ‘Baby don’t’ from 1961 that features a honking saxophone solo right out of the Earl Bostic bag.
Of great interest is that some artists are caught in the very early part of their careers and that is certainly the case of Jimmy Nolen who, a decade later, would be an integral part of the James Brown band on guitar, but here in 1956 comes up trumps with ‘The way you do’. Esther Phillips is featured under her earlier title of Little Esther and ‘Cherry Wine’ from 1953 pre-dates even her Atlantic period and she was but eighteen years of age and the voice was not yet fully formed. The infectious number features fine piano and brass, and a wailing tenor saxophone solo. Another inspiration for James Brown in terms of the latter’s productions was Hank Ballard and together with the Midnighters the soulful ditty, We’ll never meet again’, includes the Ballad on lead vocals and some truly beautiful collective harmonies.

One would hardly recognise at first the R & B meets jazz-influenced ‘You can’t hide’ is actually a Freddy King duet with Lula Reed from 1962 and this is far more of an early soul number than one of King’s trademark blues recordings.
Little Willie John is best known for contributing a near definitive of ‘Fever’, yet on ‘Mister Glenn’, the theme is outer space with a tribute to the then American astronaut hero and to ram home the point comes with a suitable space ship intro spoken dialogue. In a more laid back tempo, Jimmy Scott delivers on ‘Somewhere down the line’, complete with lovely piano and organ playing. In contrast, for a mixture of R &B and Latin grooves, then Wynonie Harris’s ‘Good mambo tonight’ is an inspirational number and the kind of instrumental that long-time Blue Note altoist Lou Donaldson might have recorded.

It is a pity there are no insightful details on the individual 45s for each one tells a story in its own right and it would have been nice to read about them. Inner sleeve notes are thus kept to the absolute bare minimum of essential information. That said, from a purely musical perspective, this tasty new offering is on a par with some of the Ace compilations.

Tim Stenhouse