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Album Review

Although this anthology, The J&S Years, is billed to Baby Washington and the Hearts, and is thoughtfully assembled and expertly annotated, it's a little deceptively titled, because Baby Washington — the soul singer most famous for her 1960s recordings — actually only sings lead on nine of these 25 tracks, most of which feature the Hearts without Washington. It's a long, convoluted story typical of the doo wop era (and thoroughly explained in the liner notes), but basically, the female vocal group the Hearts went through many lineup changes in the 1950s and 1960s. Washington was in an early version (though not the original one that had the 1955 Top Ten R&B hit "Lonely Nights"), and this compilation does have three 1957 Hearts tracks on which she sings lead, as well as half a dozen solo sides she cut for the J&S label in the late 1950s. Most of this CD, however, consists of Hearts recordings on which Washington doesn't sing lead, and quite a few on which she's not in the group at all. So it should be considered a Hearts collection rather than a Baby Washington one, even though it might appeal to some Washington fans for the inclusion of rare, early solo and group material with her on vocals. Whether you treat it as a Hearts or Washington release (or both), it's mostly energetic, and fair but not brilliant, late-'50s material on which doo wop, R&B, and early rock & roll intersected. There are scattered tracks postdating 1960, and even a couple soul tunes from 1970, but for the most part it's got a late-'50s doo wop sound. Though Washington's leads are strong, her voice was, at this point, much more impressive than the material she had to sing. On the later sides (done after Washington's departure), you can hear the group edge toward a more soul/girl group style; the best and most girl group-sounding, the 1963 single "Dear Abby," even made the lowest reaches of the Top 100, though it's derivative of the Ikettes' "I'm Blue." But J&S Years is a release for heavy doo wop collectors and Baby Washington completists, and not one you should expect to bear much resemblance to Washington's 1960s soul records.

Biography

Born: 13 November 1940 in Bamberg, SC

Genre: R&B/Soul

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

Her sultry delivery earned Justine "Baby" Washington R&B chart bows in four different decades, most notably on the delectable uptown soul classic "That's How Heartaches Are Made" for Sue Records in 1963. Born in South Carolina but raised in Harlem, Washington was a member of the Hearts in 1956 before tallying her first R&B hit in 1959 with "The Time" for Neptune. Billed occasionally as Jeanette or Justine Washington,...
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The J & S Years, Baby Washington
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