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Music Review: Various Artists – Putumayo Presents Rhythm & Blues

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For those unfamiliar with Putumayo, their CDs are good introductions to whichever genre of music a particular album is featuring. This disc is the company’s first release featuring exclusively musicians of the Rhythm & Blues genre, the popularity of which began in the 1940s.

R&B reached its crest in the mid to late 1950s and was effectively minimal by the early 1960s. It never went away, but stayed more or less under the radar until the 2000s, when it became popular again with musicians such as Ellis Hooks, James Hunter, Joss Stone, Sharon Jones, Irma Thomas, and others leading the way. Since the early 2000s the music has made a strong comeback. There are a few old standards in this mix, but the majority of the dozen selections on this disc are more recent vintage, some of which most people have not heard before.

The second cut, James Hunter’s “Til Your Fool Comes Home,” is a lively, irresistible tune that will not allow you to remain seated. So, while Hunter has you up out of your listening chair, dancing or just tapping your feet, bear this in mind: As compelling as “Fool” is, it’s nothing compared to his live performances. You must see this guy whenever he comes nearby. Along with Hunter, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings and Irma Thomas with Henry Butler are the standouts on this CD. Not that the others aren’t good – they’re great. But I’ve seen the aforementioned musicians and I can vouch for the electricity in the air when these people are onstage. It will have you standing on the first number and keep you there until your hands are red and blistered from applauding.

In case you can’t tell, the musicians I’ve mentioned are the more R&B-oriented. The more soulful musicians are every bit as good, but in a more laid-back, quiet-evening-with-your-man/lady type mode.

The Emotions’ fifth cut, “My Honey and Me,” will have you nodding your head even in the middle of a passionate kiss with your best guy/girl, guaranteed, so be forewarned, unless you want to feel your loved one's wrath.

Willie Dixon’s old standard “Wang Dang Doodle,” made famous by the late Koko Taylor, is given a wang dang doodle interpretation here by Sam Moore (of Sam and Dave fame), Keb’ Mo’, and Angie Stone. Lucky for us that Dixon managed to convince a very reluctant Koko to record this in the first place. It became her biggest hit.

Catherine Russell, up at number seven with “Put Me Down Easy” has to be one of the most underrated singers in the business today. She’s got a honeyed voiced and a sophisticated delivery that’ll have you begging for more.

Ruthie Foster. What can I say about somebody who’s got the resumé she has? She hasn’t slowed down since her debut at age 14. She’s wowed them in Australia and Europe, and next week she’ll be wowing those lucky enough to be booked on the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise in the Caribbean.

Rockie Charles brings us some gutbucket soul with “Before I Find the Right Girl for Me” that’ll have you crying in your beer before the first bar of the song is finished. My complaint? Waaay too short. I wasn’t ready to stop crying when he stopped singing.

The final cut, “River Is Waiting,” featuring Irma Thomas, the Soul Queen of New Orleans and Henry Butler, eight time Handy Award winner and one of the best blues/funk/soul/New Orleans/barrelhouse pianists on Earth today, is a fitting closer. It’s got enough virtuoso talent in this loping, easygoing tribute to the Mississippi to slow your heart down and allow you to get back to normal … If you are normal, that is!

Rounding out this all too short disc you’ll find Lavelle White, Cracked Ice, The Quantic Soul Orchestra featuring Kabir, and Snooks Eaglin, all of whom gave me more pleasure than I deserve to hear.

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About Lou Novacheck