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  Listen Up! 4/12/02 Listen Up!

Friday, Apr. 12

Various Artists, "The R'n'B Box," Rhino Records. This came out about eight years ago, and it's the single finest history of African-American popular music of the middle 20th century. Six CDs compile tons of great songs from the 40s to the 70s. Right now, I'm digging the first volume, "Jumpin' the Blues (1943-1950), and hearing the way certain musicians mutated the swing at the top of the charts into something earthier, less virtuosic, more sexual. They pushed the beat a bit, making it harder. They lessened the emphasis on soloists, and when they did solo, they went for rawness rather than invention. The vocalists relaxed a bit, singing more the way people in their community talked. Compared to what came later, this stuff sounds tame. Compared to what was popular at the time, it sounds wild. But never mind the comparisons. These songs are pure joy to hear.

--Steve Pick



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