Album: Various artists

The R&B Hits of 1954, INDIGO/SANCTUARY

Indigo's annually themed box sets may be the best R&B anthologies ever compiled. Where other collections of pre-rock'n'roll music are usually assembled by genre, Indigo's policy affords a fascinating illustration of the diversity of styles pursued alongside one another in any given era, and enables one to track the evolution of black music during rock's gestation period. The most striking aspect of this three-disc set is the breadth of idiosyncratic approaches sheltering under the rhythm-and-blues umbrella, ranging from the doowop of the Spaniels, Chords and Cadillacs, through the jazz-tinged combo sounds of Ray Charles and Big Joe Turner, to the rawer blues of Elmore James and John Lee Hooker. The diversity reflects the regional influences that affected music in the Fifties - with the rolling New Orleans feel of Fats Domino, Professor Longhair and Smiley Lewis different again from both the Texas jump-blues of T-Bone Walker and Lowell Fulson and the Chicago blues of Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf. Within any of the subgenres covered, the individual approaches are legion: try suggesting that Ruth Brown should sing more like Dinah Washington, or that The 5 Royales might profitably adopt the harmonies of The Clovers, and the chances are that you'd have been chinned. A reminder of the virtues of musical idiosyncrasy.

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