-- David Cantwell

Cocktail Combos
Jumpin' Like Mad (Capitol Blues Collection)
Various Artists
(Capitol Records)

The most recent book by British musicologist/journalist Barney Hoskyns, Waiting for the Sun: The Sound of Los Angeles, offers up the theory that in the Forties, Central Avenue in Los Angeles was home to the most vibrant black music scene in America. These two multi-disc reissues, part of an ongoing series exploring the vast blues music archive of L.A.-based Capitol Records, make that claim difficult to dispute.

The triple-disc Cocktail Combos collection begins with some of the seminal work of the Nat "King" Cole Trio, whose mix of jazz, jive, and standards influenced an entire generation of West Coast piano player/vocalists, including Ray Charles, Roy Hawkins, Charles Brown, and Floyd Dixon, the last two of whom are featured in this collection. As at any good cocktail party, each guest here brings something unique to the table. Cole's effortless delivery and distinctive piano style, along with the artistry of guitarist Oscar Moore, the trio's secret weapon, provide intoxicating moments on classics such as "Straighten Up and Fly Right" and "Route 66." Dixon displays more obvious blues influences in his music, and his lyrics deftly explore unexpected topics such as the jealousy and doubt that can accompany a long-distance relationship ("Telephone Blues" and "Call Operator 210").

Charles Brown appears both as a solo artist and with Johnny Moore's Three Blazers. A Texan by birth, Brown mixes his home state's bluesier sound with a lugubrious, slightly besotted vocal style and lyrics of desolation that evoke nights spent in dark bars where liquor fuels dark thoughts. The titles tell it all: "Tormented," "Trouble Blues," and "Without the One You Love." Cocktail Nation poseurs beware! Despite the loungey-sounding title, this is not a collection of lounge music, that stylish but ultimately vapid subgenre of pop. Indeed, what gives the collection its power is that it features real people expressing real emotions, not background sounds for cigar-chomping, martini-swilling yuppies.

The Jumpin' Like Mad collection offers up two discs of jump blues, which is what rock and roll was called before it was called rock and roll. This rock and roll, however, was (and is) for adults: Eating, drinking, dancing, and more drinking are the major themes here, and all are explored with lusty enthusiasm. Highlights include Jimmy Liggins's "I Ain't Drunk, I'm Just Drinkin'," finally making its CD debut; Nellie Lutcher's sexy "Fine Brown Frame"; and Big Joe Turner's blazing "Jumpin' Tonight."

Nearly every artist featured on the compilations was based in Los Angeles at the time of these recordings. Most of them were transplants, lured to the city by its booming post-war economy. Their collective talents coalesced into one of the greatest music scenes ever to assemble itself in a nightclub district.

-- Eddie Hankins

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