Five more CDs of Connie Francis, picking up right where Bear Family's earlier White Sox, Pink Lipstick set left off, in 1960 – although its 300-plus minutes of music only cover the period of 1960 to 1962. By this time, Connie Francis was established as one of the top female vocal talents of her generation, and she was ready to experiment – you hear her successful move into country music, wonderful outtakes, and never-issued songs from her early-'60s sessions…
Eddie Noack had a rough '50s, working hard and never scoring a hit, but that's nothing compared to his '60s. After he was dropped by Mercury, the singer wound up drifting to Allstar, a fly-by-night Nashville indie that specialized in "song poems" – suckers would send in lyrics and pro musicians would set them to music, for a fee – and found space for Noack, a songwriter who had success, but a singer who had none. At Allstar, he was usually able to record his own songs, but Noack wound up chasing trends instead of setting them. Specifically, he wound up cutting several singles in the style of Buck Owens & the Buckaroos, sides that may not have charted but illustrated Noack was a pro, capable of following shifting fashions and delivering upon them ably, even appealingly.
Having come to the U.S. from his native Nigeria to study medicine, percussionist Babatunde Olatunji eventually became one of the first African music stars in the States. He also soon counted jazz heavyweights like John Coltrane ("Tunji") and Dizzy Gillespie among his admirers (Gillespie had, a decade earlier, also courted many Cuban music stars via his trailblazing Latin jazz recordings). And, in spite of it being viewed by some as a symbol of African chic, Drums of Passion is still a substantial record thanks to Olatunji's complex and raw drumming.
Ferlin Husky shares billing on his volume of Bear Family's ongoing rockabilly and country-boogie series, Gonna Shake This Shack Tonight, with Simon Crum and Terry Preston – two aliases he adopted in the thick of and at the start of his career, respectively. Unlike Collectors' Choice Music's 2002 collection Country Music Is Here to Stay, the focus of this 2016 set is not on the novelties of Simon Crum. Instead, this rounds up 32 sides Husky recorded in any incarnation, with the uniting factor being its swing.
Merle Haggard, RIP. In Memoriam. Merle Haggard, an icon of American music, died at his home in California on Wednesday, April 6, 2016. It was the singer, songwriter, and musician’s 79th birthday. In 2008 he battled lung cancer, and was hospitalized in December 2015 with double pneumonia. Haggard returned to the stage soon after, but was sidelined again in February due to continuing health concerns. “A week ago Dad told us he was gonna pass on his birthday,” Merle’s son and lead guitarist, Ben, revealed the day his father died, “and he wasn’t wrong.”
Twelve years after they released their first Merle Haggard box, The Untamed Hawk, Bear Family delivered the sequel, Hag: The Studio Recordings 1969-1976. This picks up where The Untamed Hawk left off, which is more of a musical dividing point than it initially seems. If The Untamed Hawk caught Haggard as he was reaching full flight, Hag captures him in his prime, as every single he released reached the Country Top Ten – often capturing the number one slot – and as he sometimes crossed over into the pop Top 40. Hag was without a doubt the biggest star in country music but the remarkable thing about his reign at the top was that he never played it safe.
Chuck Berry fanatics, your ship has come in, and it’s the Queen Mary — or maybe we should call it the Queen Maybellene. As you’d expect from the Bear Family label, which specializes in gargantuan reissues, this 16-CD, 396-song box doesn’t simply span Berry’s career, it embraces virtually every musical note the man has ever issued. You’ll find all of his released album tracks and singles, starting with an obscure 1954 recording and including everything from the Chess, Mercury and Atco labels, plus every surviving alternate take. Also here are five CDs’ worth of concert performances from 1956 to 1972.
Although the Prisonaires are remembered for the song "Just Walkin in the Rain," this collection proves that they were a fine pop/gospel group. Johnny Bragg was a huge fan of the Ink Spots and their lead singer, Bill Kenny, and it's no wonder that much of the material on this disc has that smooth crooning style favored by pre-rock & roll vocal groups.
Anyone with the slightest appreciation for Louis Prima's incredible Vegas shows of the '50s and '60s will instantly recognize Butera's name … and his hard-driving, don't-tell-'em-it's rock 'n' roll sound. Butera, with his band The Witnesses, backed Prima for the better part of 20 years, but had an equally interesting career before the Vegas run. Here Bear Family collects the whole of the four sessions Butera cut for RCA in 1953/54 19 tracks including gems like Chicken Scratch and Easy Rockin', 6 previously unreleased sides and two unheard alternate versions, all featuring his sweet-and-greasy, strip-joint-in-New Orleans sax.