Camille Howard: Volume One: Rock Me Daddy

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Like many Specialty releases of this time (these sides were recorded from 1947 to 1952) this isn't exactly jazz, but the blues-based boogie here owes something to jazz, as well as the emerging style of rhythm and blues. And Ms. Howard's singing, with its sweet voice and saucy phrasing, is not far removed from the pop singers of the day. You can hear a style evolve here; not only Camille's but that of R&B, and in it you hear faint baby steps of R&B's child, rock & roll.

Camille Howard played piano for Roy Milton and his Solid Senders, and she also took the the occasional vocal. While labels were seeking her services, (Milton was under contract to Specialty but his band wasn't) Specialty owner Art Rupe told Milton that recording Camille for Specialty would help his own career. Milton was convinced, and even played drums on many of her sides. The other sideman of note is Billy Hadnott, a jazz bassist who turns up on Prestige's WARDELL GRAY MEMORIAL series. The supporting cast does its part, and the later tracks have some good sax solos. But Camille is clearly the star of the show, and the boogie sets the pace.

The tracks here are presented in chronological order. They begin simply: a piano trio, with Camille the only significant performer. The first track, "The Boogie and the Blues" has a good rockin' boogie line, but the words are mundane, endlessly rhyming "blues" and "cruise". Next we hear some slow ballads, where Camille's cute voice is used to great advantage. In tunes like "You Don't Love Me", you can almost hear her smile, a trait she shares with Helen Humes. Her piano is subdued on the slow tracks, and is most heard on an "Autumn Leaves"-like downward torrent of notes, used on several tracks here. The downside to the early tracks: the lyrics let her down. Too many songs about a broken heart, and everything seems to rhyme with "blue". (It was also a concern to Specialty; in 1948 Rupe wrote Camille that he was "constantly trying to find good vocal material".)

Come the 'Fifties, the songs get better and the settings more elaborate. A guitar is added and Camille gets sprightly, on "O Solo Mio Boogie", one of many "classical boogies" here. (This is the best of these; it definitely tops Elvis' "It's Now or Never".) Add a conga, and Camille goes Latin, on the nice "Within This Heart of Mine". But the best is just ahead. The disc reaches its peak with the fantastic "Shrinking Up Fast". The backing has grown to a seven-piece band, including what sounds like an oboe; Camille chews through the lyric with confidence, suggesting that they should have used a band sooner. The second highlight is "Money Blues", her last hit. The song's key line, "Ain't got no money, ain't got no use for you", has since been used in other songs; it ends with the great send-off "Get me some money, honey!" It adds up to a fun package, maybe not essential but worth a listen if you like this sort of thing.

Record Label: Specialty

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream

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