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Album Review

Charles Brown is usually regarded as a smooth R&B balladeer, and indeed most of his big hits were in that style, whether with Johnny Moore's Blazers or on his own. This 30-song compilation, however (in the words of the liner notes), "seeks to redress that balance and offers the rare jumping and rocking side of Charles Brown." It succeeds mightily in doing so, the first half of the CD presenting sides featuring Brown's vocals and piano by Johnny Moore's Blazers cut for the Exclusive label between 1945 and 1947, the other drawn from his solo recordings for Aladdin between 1949 and 1956. While most of the Exclusive sides suffer from the slightly reduced fidelity common to music cut before the introduction of higher quality recording equipment in the late 1940s, there's no denying the infectious spirit of these jump blues sides. The original version of "Money's Getting Cheaper" (better known when subsequently recorded by other artists under the title "Times Getting Tougher Than Tough"), one of the Exclusive singles cut in Moore's group, might be the most famous song here, though it's not necessarily the best of the lot. Things get more polished on the material done after Brown set out on his own, but these too are respectable swinging up-tempo R&B, if not as raw as the more raucous music played in that style. They also show Brown occasionally deviating from his usual game plan into mambo ("Two Hot Lips and Seven Kisses") and New Orleans-styled rock & roll. It wouldn't be going too far to say that those who generally favor lively R&B with a danceable beat over ballads might prefer this disc to a standard best-of Brown compilation, which usually goes for slow hits like "Merry Christmas Baby." Whatever your preference, there are plenty of worthwhile tracks on this consistent anthology, and while it won't displace hit ballad-oriented collections as the most representative Brown best-of, it's well worth checking out for those who want to discover the other, less celebrated facet of his early work.


Born: 13 September 1922 in Texas City, TX

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s

How many blues artists remained at the absolute top of their game after more than a half-century of performing? One immediately leaps to mind: Charles Brown. His incredible piano skills and laid-back vocal delivery remained every bit as mesmerizing at the end of his life as they were way back in 1945, when his groundbreaking waxing of "Drifting Blues" with guitarist Johnny Moore's Three Blazers invented an entirely new blues genre for sophisticated postwar revelers: an ultra-mellow, jazz-inflected...
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