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Four Classic Albums

AVID AMSC 1258 [69:47 + 70:38]




This twofer includes Lavern Bakerís earliest LPs. She started with LaVern Baker Ė Rock Ďní Roll, which gives an indication of the market audience, following it up with the eponymous LaVern (having thus established who she was with some big hits from that first LP, namely Jim Dandy, Tweedle Dee and Thatís All I Need). She then moved on to broaden her listening base with the Bessie Smith and Blues ballads albums. So, the two discs, recorded between 1956 and 1959 offer a valuable perspective on her earliest days in the studios.

Her first LP is solidly based in R Ďní B vernacular with doo-dah backings, yackety-yak tenor sax outings, and rudimentary arrangements. The hits still hit home, though itís the Mahalia Jackson, Gospel influence that now seems most valuable in her early recordings, transcending, for a time at least, the more cursory elements of the genre. It just so happens that I find her second album very limited in scope and ambition. The throaty honking tenor sax accompaniments Ė reeking of King Curtis - and the vibes shimmer offer mild distraction, and so does the brief and very occasional electric guitar solo but the soaring backing singer effects and the metronomic nature of the bare-bones arrangements makes these sides sound predictable Ė more predictable than, perhaps, they seemed at the time.

In January 1958 she recorded a Bessie Smith album and fortunately had with her some elite sidemen, rather than the anonymous backing musicians from her first two albums. Buck Clayton, Vic Dickenson, Paul Quinichette, Sahib Shihab, Nat Pierce, Danny Baker and Wendell Marshall led a contingent though Jimmy Cleveland, Urbie Green, and Jerome Richardson also solo to fine effect. Fortunately, Baker made no attempt to copy Smithís delivery Ėshe knew that would be pointless Ė and her own approach is throaty, occasionally unsubtle but always lively and vivid. Obbligato solos from the brass men, in particular, are highly effective, whilst Quinichette and Richardson turn in telling contributions. Nat Pierce is somewhat under-recorded. Iím not sure why Young Womanís Blues sounds so muffled; itís like listening under water.

The Blues Ballad album rather reverts to the yackety-doo wop elements of the earliest discs though the Gospel infusion once again broadens its stylistic reach and gives it a greater sense of depth. Fortunately, for every bad choice Ė no one will ever want to listen twice to Humpty Dumpty Heart Ė there are witty additions from the stables of Berry Gordy and Sedaka and Greenfield: up to the minute and classy. Itís a shame that the shuffle rhythm rather does for St Louis Blues, a tune that, by rights, could have graced the Bessie Smith album.

These four LPs have their ups and also their downs. A lot of sifting is required but perseverance is a virtue given Bakerís commanding expression, her Gospel affiliations, her rootedness in jazz and her absorption of Rock and her leading role in Rhythm Ďní Blues.

Jonathan Woolf



Lots And Lots Of Love

Of Course I Do

Youíll Be Crying


Iím In A Crying Mood

Mine All Mine

Harbor Lights

Iíll Never Be Free

Romance In The Dark

Everybodyís Somebodyís Fool

How Long Will It Be

Fool That I Am

LaVern Baker

Jim Dandy

Tra La La

I Canít Love You Enough

Get Up, Get Up (You Sleepy Head)

Thatís All I Need


Tweedle Dee


Play It Fair

Tomorrow Night

That Lucky Old Sun

Soul On Fire

My Happiness Forever

How Can You Leave A Man Like This?

LaVern Baker sings Bessie Smith

Gimme A Pigfoot

Baby Doll

On Revival Day

Money Blues

I Ainít Gonna Play No Second Fiddle

Back Water Blues

Empty Bed Blues

Thereíll Be A Hot Time In The Old Town Tonight

Nobody Knows You When Youíre Down And Out

After Youíve Gone

After Youíve Gone

Preaching The Blues

Blues Ballads

I Cried A Tear

If You Love Me

Youíre Teasing Me

Love Me Right


So High, So Low

I Waited Too Long

Why Baby Why

Humpty Dumpty Heart

Itís So Fine

Whipper Snapper

St. Louis Blues

LaVern Baker (vocals) with various personnel, recorded 1956-59


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