Album: Various Artists, I Smell A Rat: Early Black Rock'n'Roll #2 1949-1959 (Trikont)

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The Independent Culture

Jonathan Fischer, the esteemed archivist responsible for Trikont's exemplary compilations of "black radical music", may be stretching a point by describing the 26 choice cuts of 1950s R&B collected here as "early black rock'n'roll" – although in his defence one has to admit that the obverse, considering the likes of Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis as "late white R&B", would not be that far from the truth, either.

Whatever you call it, it's wonderful, spirited stuff, ranging from the primal blues spirit of Howlin' Wolf to the rocking gospel of cover star Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the most influential female guitarist since the legendary Memphis Minnie. Fischer's selection focuses on the seamier R&B which swept away the eunuch sentimentality of 1950s white pop "like a window being opened to let out the stale air", as Nik Cohn characterised it: the lascivious snarls of Big Mama Thornton and Little Esther Phillips, the latter's complaint of "Hound Dog"; the lothario charm of Johnny Guitar Watson; the automotive sex metaphors of Chuck Berry and Billy The Kid Emerson; the hypnotic-exotic rhythms of Rosco Gordon, John Lee Hooker and Bo Diddley; the black rockabilly of Tarheel Slim; and the downright weird, borderline tasteless fantasies of Andre Williams and Sly Fox.

Download this Number Nine Train; My Four Woman; I Smell A Rat; She's Fine, She's Mine