On infrequent occasions only does a collection of one artist's work embrace the breadth and vitality of his or her many years as a recording artist. Usually, these themed collections provide windows into a specific time and place in an artist's career. From 1953 until about 1966, Vee-Jay was one of the top indie labels that regularly turned out super R&B and urban blues performances, as well as a few sides by one "small band from England called, The Beatles. When Vee-Jay was already significant for being amongst the first black owned labels, operator Vivian Carter also made Vee-Jay one of the first female owned labels. In this particular series, Shout Factory focuses on four of the cornerstones of Vee-Jay's years of success: Jimmy Reed, Jerry Butler, The Staple Singers and The Dells.
Jimmy Reed Best Of The Vee-Jay Years Shout Factory
The Jimmy Reed collection is nothing new to avid Jimmy Reed fans. A few years back, an album of similar repertoire called Blues Masters: The Best of Jimmy Reed (Rhino, 2000) was released. If for some reason you've never heard that record, you should certainly get to listen to this Shout Factory offering. It contains such stalwart tracks as "Big Boss Man, "Bright Lights, Big City and "Ain't That Lovin' You Baby. In addition to the eighteen tracks, the package includes a nice four-page liner note essay by Billy Vera, limited liner credits and a handful of photos. All in all, this disc contains a musically solid collection that loses a little in the packaging.
Best Of The Vee-Jay Years
In the Jerry Butler collection, we not only get a listen to Butler's work as a solo artist in his prime, but also to his recordings with the Impressions ("For Your Precious Love and "Come Back My Love), and his collaboration on the track "He Will Break Your Heart with then young guitarist and writer, Curtis Mayfield. In addition, this sixteen track collection has Butler's signature turn on Mancini's "Moon River and chart-topping duet with Betty Everett on "Let It Be Me. The package also contains a four-page liner note essay by Billy Vera, which is quite insightful and interesting and accompanied by limited photos and liner credits.
The Staple Singers
Best Of The Vee-Jay Years
The Staple Singers' success happened a few years after their work with Vee-Jay on Stax, when this gospel ensemble enjoyed major pop and R&B success with tracks such as "Respect Yourself and "I'll Take You There. That should not, however, limit the interest or vitality of this collection, as the group sounds just as good, if not better, in its early days when its sound and talent was still developing. Great recordings on this seventeen-song collection include, "This May Be The Last Time, "Uncloudy Day and the group's take on the standard, "Will The Circle Be Unbroken. Unfortunately, almost half of the four-page liner notes by Billy Vera is dedicated to the group's post Vee-Jay era on Riverside, Stax and Epic. While this information is important for locating the historical context of the artist, it takes away from the "early days story of The Staple Singers. Also, the photos and liner credits are limited, the booklet lacking a proper musician credit.
The Dells Best Of The Vee-Jay Years Shout Factory
The final release is by The Dells, one of the most trail blazing and long-lasting rhythm & blues groups of all-time. While they did bounce from label to label, they sustained two strong periods on Vee-Jay. Their most impressive recording, "Oh What A Night, is part of this package. The inclusion of such Dell standards as "Stay In My Corner and their take on Tom Jones' "It's Not Unusual makes for a CD with nice flow and insight into great and under-appreciated artists. Vera's liner note essay does a superlative job of telling their story and focusing on their Vee-Jay days. However, as with the previous three releases, liner note credits and photos are limited and lacking.
Musically, these releases are significant for having chosen the material that best represents each featured artist's sound, success and style. However, a true homerun for these releases would require better packaging with more detailed liner credits, including, where possible, more than Vee-Jay's release numbers, release dates, songwriters and chart positions. Each CD should have contained musician, studio, and studio personnel credits, more photographs, longer liner note essays, and, for historical perspective, a paragraph or two about the story of Vee-Jay Records.
The Staple Singers
Tracks: Uncloudy Day; I Know I Got Religion; Swing Down Chariot; I'm Coming Home, Pts. 1-2; Help Me Jesus; Low Is The Way; So Soon; Will The Circle Be Unbroken; Pray On; Too Close; Let's Go Home; I've Been Scorned; Swing Low; Sit Down Servant; Stand by Me; The Day Is Passed And Gone; This May Be The Last Time.
Tracks: Tell The World; Dreams Of Contentment; Zing Zing Zing; Oh What A Nite; Jo-Jo; Movin' On; I Wanna Go Home; Why Do You Have To Go?; Pain In My Heart; Time Makes You Change; Jeepers Creepers; My Best Girl; Dry Your Eyes; Baby Open Up Your Heart; Lil' Darlin'; Stay In My Corner; It's Not Unusual.
Tracks: For Your Precious Love; Come Back My Love; He Will Break Your Heart; Find Another Girl; I'm A Telling You; Moon River; Aware Of Love; Make It Easy On Yourself; You Can Run (But You Can't Hide); Message To Martha; Need To Belong; Giving Up On Love; I Don't Want To Hear It Anymore; I Stand Accused; Let It Be Me; Good Times.
Tracks: High And Lonesome; You Don't Have To Go; I Ain't Got You; Ain't That Lovin' You Baby; Can't Stand To See You Go; You've Got Me Dizzy; Little Rain; Honey, Where You Going?; Honest I Do; I'm Gonna Get My Baby; Take Out Some Insurance; Going To New York; Baby What You Want Me To Do; Hush-Hush; Big Boss Man; Bright Lights Big City; Oh John; Shame Shame Shame.