Night Train to Nashville: Music City Rhythm & Blues 1945-1970
Get Down With It: The Okeh Sessions
In Greil Marcus' Mystery Train, he tells the story of Little Richard interrupting a discussion of Erich Segal's Love Story on Dick Cavett's show, saying, "SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! Š I HAVE WRITTEN A BOOK Š AND IT'S CALLED HE GOT WHAT HE WANTED BUT HE LOST WHAT HE HAD!" In that story, Little Richard is outrageous in the way people expect him to be, but the book's title -- though there's no evidence he ever actually wrote it -- suggests a more experienced, less-spontaneous artist, and that's the Little Richard heard on Get Down With It. The music may not be as revolutionary as his greatest hits 10 or so years before, but the recordings suggest he was more than a savant. Here he's less ecstatic, but he still swoops through the vocal on "Poor Dog (Who Can't Wag His Own Tail)," and he showboats with his right hand throughout Sam Cooke's "Well All Right." Throughout the album, more than anything else you hear an artist in clear control of his talents.
Along with Little Richard, the hero for much of the album is New Orleanian Larry Williams, known for "Dizzy Miss Lizzy" and "Bony Maronie." As the house producer for Okeh, he created a musical setting that was contemporary, merging Motown, James Brown and southern funk into a sound that was somehow quintessentially Little Richard. He also provided four songs including "Poor Dog," co-written with Johnny "Guitar" Watson. Much of the material was released as The Explosive Little Richard in 1967, but the disc also collects Okeh singles and unreleased tracks, among them two Fats Domino tracks. The highlight of the bonus tracks is the Ennio Morricone-penned title theme to the movie, Hurry Sundown.
Little Richard, Esquerita and Johnny Adams appear on Night Train to Nashville, though none were Nashvillians. The compilation documents Nashville's place in southern R&B history, so Adams and Esquerita are included because they recorded in Nashville, and Little Richard appears in a radio spot. Though the collection's purpose is noble, it's valuable because it's fun. Almost every song has enough personality to make it memorable; an alternate version of Ruth Brown's "(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean," for example, features reverb guitar, barrelhouse sax, and backing vocals singing fireworks-like flourishes throughout the chorus. It's too much but perfect in its way. -- Alex Rawls