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…
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.
All of Sleepy LaBeef's most important records – from his early singles for Starday to his latter-day sides for Sun – are included on the mammoth, six-disc box set Larger Than Life. LaBeef recorded for a number of different labels during his career, and during that time, he explored a variety of roots music, from rockabilly and country to blues and soul. Spanning three full decades, Larger Than Life contains 158 tracks, including all of his recordings for Starday, Dixie, Columbia, and Sun.
Perhaps the most difficult thing in writing about a box set like this is how to convey in words – few or many – the magic, wonder, and intimidating musicianship that is contained on these recordings. Over four CDs, the seeds, roots, branches, and trees of a musical partnership were formed and lived out on the public stage, and remain all but unknown to those who were not country music fans during the era. While one Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant compilation has appeared on Razor & Tie, as a single disc it only begins to offer the legend of this pair of musical innovators.
Sam Phillips didn't record anybody else the way he recorded Jerry Lee Lewis. With other artists, he pushed and prodded, taking his time to discover the qualities that made them uniquely human, but with Jerry Lee, he just turned the tape on and let the Killer rip. There was no need to sculpt because Lewis arrived at Sun Studios fully formed, ready to lean back and play anything that crossed his mind. Over the course of seven years, that's more or less how things were run at Sun: Lewis would sit at the piano and play, singing songs that were brought to him and songs that crossed his mind, and Sam never stopped rolling the tape.
Four discs (104 tracks in all) that exhaustively document the Mercury, Roulette, and Old Town output of big-band veteran Buddy Johnson, whose eternally swinging outfit was seductively fronted by his sister Ella (along with several interchangeable male crooners). Buddy's band wasn't as big as it once was during his Mercury tenure (tenor saxman Purvis Henson was at the core of the blazing horn section), but the tightly arranged New York-style sizzle remained.