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SNAKEBITE IV - SIDEWINDER The Jewel - Paula - Story Retroworld FLOATD6052 (2010)


To call 'Sidewinder' old wine in new bottles would be to relegate blues to a particular time and place. The time for electric blues was the post war period and the place was the southern states of the USA. But although this double CD is musically rooted in that time, it concentrates on the subsequent two decades from the mid 60's up to a belated handful of late 80's recordings, to give us a true feel of the kind of rhythm and blues that had been popping up on every street corner in the south.

And in shifting from blues and gospel to funk and soul, this R&B compilation brings rare coherence to 42 tracks that span 24 years.

Indeed, 'Sidewinder' is the kind of compilation you might want to buy simply because of the feel of the thing. It conveys a sense of history through a wide variety of generically related music and not least because of the evocative liner notes by a true fan Alan Robinson. And while Alan unfolds the story of Stan Lewis, a grocery store owner (who named his Jewel label after a shop), turned record retailer, producer, and finally label boss, the 42 tracks nicely flesh out the exponential growth of rhythm and blues music.

Stan wasn't slow in understanding the commercial potential of the music, eventually establishing the more pop minded Paula records. And it is the Paula tracks that offer an insight to the way a niche market gradually exploded into the charts. Disc one covers the more bluesy Jewel output while disc two focuses (though not exclusively) on the more commercial soul oriented Paula output. You need look no further than the confident stop-time opener of 'Southern Country Boy' and the Buddy Guy style vocal and slow blues of 'Booze in the Bottle' by the Carter Bothers, to appreciate the quality in abundance.

Similarly Toussaint McCall's emotive 'Nothing Takes The Place of You' and the horn led, big band r&b outing 'Bad Bad Whisky' by Peppermint Harris sets the standard, while the soul tinged, blues belter 'Rough Dr ied Woman Part 1' by the lesser known Big Mac is equally good.

Best of all is the falsetto driven Ted Taylor who opens with the gospel influenced 'It's Too Late'. He further explores some deep soul on the opening three tracks of disc two, including the smoking 'Everybody Knows About My Good Thing' and the soul dripping 'How's Your Love Life Baby' And somewhere in between the usual contributions from the oft recorded Lightnin' Hopkins (there are 3 unrecorded tracks here), John Lee Hooker and Joe Turner, there are several nuggets that hint at other regional pockets of hot blues, R&B and soul.

Bobby Patterson's early 70's release 'Quiet Do Not Disturb' is also a great example of intense soul singing and he toughens things up impressively on 'How Do You Spell Love'. Just like Ted Taylor, Bobby is surely good enough to warrant his own compilation.

There's plenty of variety even if it doesn't always work. The Montclairs' 'Dreaming's Out of Season' for example, is a sugary soul out ing very much of its time (1972). Far better is assured phrasing of Little Johnny Taylor on 'Open House at My House' - one of 3 impressive outings - and Bobby Rush's slip sliding funky groove on 'Bowlegged Woman/Knock-Kneed Man' There's the usual mix of the great, the good and the passable but on balance the compilation is a success. The 70's stuff marks a real departure from the more meditative efforts of Lightin' Hopkins and John Lee Hooker's trademark boogie, but the swagger of Cash McCall's 'Love Me Baby' is the kind of guitar led musical bluster that boldly announced that blues had come out of the closet and was knocking on the mainstream door.

This is further evidenced by the stellar vocal performance of Fontella Bass on 'Homewrecker'. There's even a touch of psychedelic blues mayhem on Cicero Blake's humorous Dip My Dipper', before the Willie Dixon contemporary Buster Benton's 'Spider in My Stew' - recorded for Jewell - anchors the project back in the blues, on the best of the late 70's and 80's tracks.

'Sidewinder' opens with a flourish, then dips a little on the well covered artists and rises again on the back of a 70's soul upsurge, with a mainstream crossover in mind. The great thing about this album is that it binds together the diverse musical strands that give rhythm & blues its enduring appeal.

The Jewel and Paula labels acted as a conduit in exploring the links between blues, soul, funk and pop and 'Sidewinder' makes a pretty god fist of tracing that enjoyable journey.


Review by Pete Feenstra


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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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