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Holy Mackerel!
Pretenders to Little Richard's Throne
Ace CDCHD 1211

Little Richard possesses one of the most dynamic voices in all of popular music. Mixing gospel intensity with a sinner's unrepentant glee, he imbued his 50s-era Specialty recordings with unbridled joy and hellbent fury that moved teen feet - both black and white - across the nation's dance floor. The result was a spate of the greatest piano-pounding, sax wailing, over-the-top rockers ever, many of which topped the pop and r&b charts.
        Naturally, the Georgia Peach's success spawned many imitators and this genuinely entertaining and smartly chosen 25-song compilation showcases the best Little Richard tunes not actually cut by Richard Penniman. Most sides feature cats like Screamin' Joe Neal ("Rock'n'Roll Deacon"), Big Danny Oliver ("Sapphire"), H.B. Barnum ("Don't 'Cha Know"), and Young Jesse ("Hey-Bop-A-Ree-Bop") nicking a part of Richard's piano or vocal sound on some solid senders.
        Yet, some amazingly accurate imitations emanate from future stars James (Chonnie-On-Chon"), Otis Redding ("Hey Hey Baby"), Big Al Downing ("Hey Miss Lucy"), and the oft-under-rated Dee Clark ("24 Boyfriends"). Even relative unknowns - Bunker Hill ("The Girl Can't Dance"), Little Ike ("She Can Ike"), and blues great Lowell Fulson - send-up the Rock Hall of Famer in high style.
        However, the final track blows them all away. On a self-imposed sabbatical in the ministry, Little Richard himself - singing uncredited with his former road band The World Famous Upsetters - nails a Fats Domino cover ("I'm In Love Again") with characteristic, ego-driven zeal. In the process, he deftly demonstrates why he was so bedrock vital to rock'n'roll.
- Ken Burke

Album track listing and samples at Ace Records' Website:

Jerry Fuller - A Double Life
The Challenge Recordings 1959-1966
Ace Records CDCHD 1209

Jerry Fuller's involvement in the music business is vast. A producer, performer and also a superb songwriter, he also discovered such talents ranging from Gary Puckett to Collin Raye. This set covers Fuller's seven-year stretch on Hollywood's Challenge label. Fuller's stylings are eclectic, everything from the Northern Soul sound of the title track "Double Life," PF Sloan sounding "Man In Black" to teen pop flavors such as the Bobby Vee inspired "Shy Away" written by the Dave Burgess.
        "The Place Where I Cry" would have fit the stylings of Ray Peterson or Roy Orbison, Two strong covers include Roy Hamilton's 1957 smash "Don't Let Go" and the Buck Owen hit "Above and Beyond" recorded with label-mate Diane Maxwell who the year before was the first female vocalist on Challenge label with the girl group sound.
        Included are informative and compelling notes by Tony Rounce detailing everything right down to how Rick Nelson phrased a line in Fuller's song "Travelin' Man," originally written with Sam Cooke in mind.
        Fuller demonstrated great chops in many styles and the proof is the work he left behind in his Challenge period, just a shame he didn't have a larger recording career. - Johnny Vallis

Album track listing and samples at Ace Records' Website:

Brenda Lee - Queen of Rock 'n' Roll
Ace Records CDCHD 1222

Between 1956 and 1967, Brenda Lee scored 29 Top 40 hits, which put her in the same league with the likes of Elvis Presley, Fats Domino and the Beatles. Moreover, along with Frankie Lymon, she was the only teenaged hitmaker of the first music devoted exclusively to teens. That said, Lee's greatest successes came with Adult Contemporary/Country Crossover ballads ("I'm Sorry," "Emotions," etc.) that eschewed her raspy rockin' style in favor of a precocious, womanly vibrato. The upshot of this commercial move? One of rock's first great female vocalists never really hit the market with a great big beat album, until now.
        Ace's 28-song compilation highlights the best rockers from all eras of Lee's days as a commercial force. Some of the former Brenda Mae Tarpley's biggest hits ("Dum Dum," "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree,' "That's All You Gotta Do," "Sweet Nothin's") are sprinkled throughout the set. However, the better rockers come from her earliest days ("Rock the Bop," "Bigelow 6-200," "Dynamite") when she sounded like a manic southern midget struggling to grow up.
        Lee cut a fair share of cover ditties ("Let The Four Winds Blow," "Kansas City") and standards ("Bill Bailey Won't You Please Come Home," "Jambalaya") as album fillers, but didn't really make a serious attempt to revive her rockin' chops until 1964 when she cut a session in England with Jimmy Page ("Is It True," "What'd I Say"). Sadly, very few later records ever embraced that rockin' spirit again.
        Compiled in one spot, it's easy to hear how Nashville - with it's fruity saxophones, moderate tempos, and assembly line approach - limited the youngster's potential as a rocker. Yet even with those flaws, her talents and the excellent song selections make this her finest rock album. Is she the Queen? No, but once upon a time she was a true rock'n'roll princess and that's good enough.
- Ken Burke

Album track listing and samples at Ace Records' Website:

The Best Of We Five
There Stands The Door

Here we have an important piece of Folk-Rock history. The San Francisco based group We Five charted two Top 40 in 1965 in the US with Sylvia Fricker's (of Ian and Sylvia) "You Were On My Mind" #3 and Dino Valente's "Let's Get Together" #31. The group deftly showcased the talents of Jerry Burgan, Peter Fullerton, Bob Jones and Michael Stewart. Later the ensemble included other musicians and a new female vocalist, Debbie Burgan. Digging deeper into their catalog alert listeners will discover many musical ideas that should have garnered better chart success, but due to label issues - including holding a full album back - the group in its original form was disbanded quite early.
        Beverly Bivens compelling vocals contained many inflections - bluesy, folky, dramatic, shy yet confident and you can add sexy. Just listen to her stellar vocal on Billy Edd Wheeler's "High Flying Bird." "Love Me Not Tomorrow" showcases a great arrangement of the John Stewart song.
        The melancholy "The First Time" aka "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" written by Ewan MacColl, about a lover much younger than himself, was recorded five years prior to Roberta Flack's 1972 #1 hit.
        We Five diehards are treated to many unreleased songs including the straight ahead movers "Have You Heard," "After All," "The Thing I Like," "What'cha Gonna Do," The Kingston Trio sounding "Past Asking" along with one alternate of "Poet" from the "Make Someone Happy" LP. Included are Coke commercials and over 10 minutes of different tunes and lyrics.
        Research notes courtesy of Alec Palao bring sharp focus to this underrated group's history. As a result, it's easy to see that the success of "You Were On My Mind" sparked interest in groups to follow.
- Johnny Vallis

Album track listing and samples at Ace Records' Website:

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