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Review: Various Artists, “From the Vaults of Ric and Ron Records”

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It’s rare that three labels team up for one project, but rare is From the Vaults of Ric & Ron Records: Rare and Unreleased Recordings 1958-1962.  Not only is this 10-record set rare in terms of quantity (a worldwide limited edition of 1,500) but it’s rare in quality, too.  Rounder Records is the force behind this excavation of the vaults of New Orleans’ independent Ric and Ron labels, and the set is being distributed in the U.S. by the Numero Group and in the U.K. by Ace Records.  The Numero Group has made a name for itself with its unique compilations of some of the rarest regional rock, soul and pop on the planet, and Ace is, of course, the reissue specialist that’s one of our favorite labels here at Second Disc HQ.  This new set of ten 45 RPM records is an essential document of New Orleans during the period (1958-1962) when rhythm-and-blues was finding its footing.  The music on Ric and Ron might not have gotten national exposure, but it’s time for the labels’ underrated artists to be rediscovered.  Eighteen of the twenty tracks in this set are previously unreleased, and the compilation will not be available digitally or on CD for the time being.

Ric and its sister label Ron were founded in 1958 by Joe Ruffino, based in New Orleans. Though the labels were only active for a short period, some of New Orleans’ greatest talents passed through the company’s doors, and the labels’ musical legacy is strong.  In addition to the artists heard on the new box set, Ric and Ron also served as a musical home to Irma Thomas, Professor Longhair, and Joe Jones. It was Jones who provided Ric with its biggest hit, “You Talk Too Much”, which peaked at No. 3 on the Hot 100 in the fall of 1960. The now-legendary Soul Queen of New Orleans, Irma Thomas recorded her first single “(You Can Have My Husband but) Don’t Mess with My Man” for the Ron label.

What will you hear on this box set?  Hit the jump!

Just six artists are represented on these twenty sides.  Al Johnson’s 1960 “Carnival Time” may be the signature song here.   Recorded at Cosimo Matassa’s renowned studio, it reflects the joyous mood we still associate with N’awlins to this day.  And although it’s still a well-known song around Mardi Gras time, the story of New Orleans native Johnson is one of as much darkness as light.  Drafted into the U.S. Army after recording the song, he returned in 1964 to find himself in dire financial straits.  But Johnson continued to persevere and perform.  A refugee of the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Johnson became a resident of Harry Connick Jr.’s Musicians Village project.  “Carnival Time” is heard both in its familiar version and in a rousing piano-pounding demo, a real piece of R&B history: “It’s carnival time/Everybody’s havin’ fun!”

The piano is, of course, paramount on these recordings.  The piano great Eddie Bo is heard on six songs, five of which are unreleased.  The one released song is the master of “Every Dog Has Its Day,” which like “Carnival Time,” is heard in an embryonic demo that opens a window into the song’s creation.  Another New Orleans native, Bo first made his name in traditional jazz circles before “defecting” to R&B.  Apparently he was as dexterous with carpentry as with piano-playing; legend has it that Bo even built the Ric studio, coming from a long line of carpenters, bricklayers and shipbuilders!  Also affected by the ravages of Katrina, Bo used his carpentry skills to help rebuild his neighborhood before his 2009 death.

A prolific recording artist who recorded for over 40 (!) labels, the full range of Bo’s talent is on display in these sides.  “Every Dog Got Its Day” (1960) boasts a funky groove and impassioned vocal.  It’s straight-ahead soul, and just about as good as it gets!  Down and dirty even in demo form, it’s just one of the tracks here that leaves you scratching your head as to why it wasn’t groomed for success by a bigger label.  The demo is even looser and greasier, with ad libs and a bit of a Ray Charles feel.  That shared heritage with Charles is evident on “Ain’t You Ashamed” (1961) with its quintessentially brassy arrangement.  Bo employs a more pinched, nasal vocal sound on “I’ll Do Anything For You.”  Its traditional ballad melody is enhanced by an insinuating brass arrangement that lies just beneath the surface!

Johnny Adams (yes, yet another New Orleans native!) had his biggest successes in the late 1960s but began his recording career at Ric, where he worked with Mac Rebennack a.k.a. Dr. John as well as Eddie Bo.  The future Dr. John produced “I Won’t Cry,” Adams’ first single for Ric, heard here in an unreleased audition performance with guitar accompaniment.  (The final “I Won’t Cry” isn’t included here.)  His three audition tracks are wholly fascinating.  Adams arrived with a dramatic delivery (which inspired Aaron Neville, among others) and a big vocal style.  Possessed with a great range, he could transition to a falsetto with ease, as “Who You Are” (also from the audition tape) proves.  “My Baby Done Closed the Door” is a more standard blues, and the versatile vocalist almost sounds like a different artist altogether on the torrid “Walking the Floor.”  Adams actually signed with Rounder in 1983 and had a long association with the label before his 1998 death.

Edgar Blanchard was one of the most well-known guitarists in New Orleans.  Although he played on sessions for labels including Atlantic and Specialty, he actually recorded Ric’s first issued single.  The two sides included in the box set were scheduled but not released as a single and didn’t resurface until years later.  Both are charming instrumentals: “Blues Cha Cha,” alas, doesn’t have much blues, but it does have a fun big band, lounge/swing to it.  “Bopsody in Blues” is another fun jaunt.  Blanchard died in 1972.

Less is known about Paul Marvin, who has two sides here: 1959’s “Hurry Up” and “Goofer,” an irreverent, almost Coasters-esque song that lives up to its title.  One of the more well-known artists on this set, Barbara Lynn was born in Texas, became an accomplished songwriter, singer and electric guitarist, and even had a song covered by The Rolling Stones!  Her sultry “You’ll Lose a Good Thing” topped the R&B charts and hit the Billboard Top 10 in 1962.  Here, you’ll hear a demo of “I Found My Good Thing” and another unreleased demo entitled “Question of Love” (the question is, “Why, baby, why, do you treat me the way you do?” in case you were wondering!).

Each of these collectible tracks has been remastered from the original tapes, and most sound quite good considering their age and origin.  Should you be interested in exploring the Ric and Ron catalogue further, a digital release has made available all 140 songs released as 45 RPM singles by Ric and Ron. These have been released on seven 20-song digital albums.  (Again, no plans for CDs have been announced.)  Lovers of classic, good-time R&B and soul might want to beeline to a local independent store before The Vaults of Ric and Ron Records are closed once more.

You can view the track listing here!

Written by Joe Marchese

June 1, 2012 at 10:15

Posted in Box Sets, Compilations, Reissues

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