We thought we’d kick off this year by choosing our favourite six album releases of 2022. Although things are not yet back to normal, we have seen old series continue and a few new ones appear. In fact, all the records below, bar one, are part of ongoing series.
You really can take it as read that if we’re selecting one from a series it is an endorsement of the whole series, not just the issue mentioned.
Boss Black Rockers
Boss Black Rockers is put out by KoKo MoJo records and was originally a 10-CD series. It was so popular that Ralph and the gang took the mad decision to select 14 tracks from each 30-track CD and issue those on 12in vinyl. They retained the fantastic artwork and ensured that the sound quality would shake your speakers but kept the subtler nuances of the recordings. Then as a crazy extra, they put a slip mat bearing a record label shot of one of the album tracks into every sleeve. And to make the project completely insane they are issuing one album per month in a limited edition of 300. Madmen. So after all that intro, the music…
As said, we endorse every album in this series but this one really grabbed us from the first track. One of our all-time favourites – the more Little Richard than Little Richard tune, How About It Baby by Emmet Davis. Storming on you get no respite with the equally wild RnB killer Uncle John from Wild Child Gibson. The criminally overlooked Larry Birdsong is up next with a less frantic rocker followed by Bobby Hendricks with a bit of politically inspired teenage Rock n Roll jive. Speaking of jive, we then have the classic vocal group floor filler Wow Wow Baby from the Searchers. We realise we are here literally just listing the first tracks but they perfectly reflect what these albums are all about – absolutely solid recordings covering wild screamers, tough Rhythm and Blues, souped-up Vocal Harmony and other genres recorded by black artists that all got labelled as Rock n Roll. The Koko Mojo mission statement is ‘All Killer No Filler’ and these albums absolutely fulfil the mission.
Oh look another volume seven but this one is about as far from Boss Black Rockers as you can get. Not in terms of musical or production quality but in the generally perceived divisions in musical genres. We believe the terms urban and country are used nowadays.
Corn Fed is the brainchild of a record collector of great taste who has taken on the task of making available un-reissued, unknown, overlooked and usually vanishingly rare recordings from the 50s and early 60s. Now there was an unbelievable amount of records issued in that time period and a week or two in any rural state of the US could turn up a ton of stuff that has never been reissued. Finding good stuff, though, that is the trick and Mr Corn Fed pulls it off with great style in every volume.
Issuing whole albums of unknown records really is a brave thing to do as there is no track that people were after to hook them in and no familiarity to ease the introduction of the unknown. People say they want to hear new tracks but most of us do want some familiarity. It can be disconcerting to hear 16 really good records in a genre you have collected for ages that are completely unknown to you. After six sold out volumes we can all trust that Dagnabitt will be bringing you stuff you wish you had known for years.
Just as Boss Black Rockers presents various genres that got labelled as Rock n Roll, Corn Fed gives you; Western Boppers, Hillbilly Gospel, 60s Country Rockers, Rockin Western Swing and other genres that all get labelled as Rockabilly. The early issues of this series are changing hands for large amounts of money and distasteful as it is to measure art in terms of money that does show the collector is finding things that people did not know they wanted.
Here’s a fantastic Bluegrass Gospel album with tracks that sound like it could be on a Corn Fed one. However, this is not a collection of long-lost recordings or a recently discovered unissued tape. This album was recorded in 2020 in Italy. To quote Bill Smoker, I listen to music with my ears, not a calendar so, really, I know when a recording is made is irrelevant but… But in a nutshell, an unbelievable amount of music was recorded in the 50s and 60s and we only hear a highly filtered tiny amount of it and from that, we chose what we like. Today we get the opportunity to hear most current recordings and we believe the ratio of great stuff to the average or lesser is probably the same. So for a current album to stand up against the decades of filtering is amazing.
Bluegrass is a well-defined musical form and if you stray from the definition by adding or subtracting it is very soon not Bluegrass, so to be able to capture the essence without sounding like a million other bluegrass tunes is a real feat and The Truffle Valley Boys really pull it off. Part of it is bringing in the Gospel side of the equation. The faith that is central to Gospel music brings an authenticity that can only be experienced and not described. The album was recorded live, around one mic in two days but the years of playing and listening together and the selection of songs is what makes it stand out. Some of the tracks are other forms of country converted into Bluegrass and two tracks are composed by band members and fit in perfectly with the rest. This is the first album from Tenbrooks Records following on from an EP from this band a few years back and the label is a real labour of love. Simply an amazing album that has been embraced by Bluegrass and Gospel fans and created new converts to the sounds.
OK now, this may seem like playing favourites but that is the nature of best-of lists. Doberman Records is a division of Dagnabbit Records that issues the Corn Fed series and as Corn Fed does for Rockabilly this series does for un-reissued sounds from the late 50s and early 60s in the Lo-Fi Rockers, garage grinds, slop sounds, guitar blasters and more that get assigned the tag Rock n Roll. Finding the good stuff amongst the unknowns is a real hard job. Just think of how many Rock n Roll albums have been issued on vinyl and CD and to find bloody good tracks that have never been re-issued before is really tough. Now a lot of these tracks do not fall into simple Rock n Roll subgenres but that is a good thing. What do you want? Fine music you have never had the chance to hear before or just more of the same? Some of these tracks have fast become popular tunes played by DJs, such as the stroller George Kennedy’s Don’t Tear My Playhouse Down and we think there are future classics in these grooves.
Multigroove and Minigroove
OK so sometimes we all do want more of the same. Multigroove and Minigroove are two labels putting out some of the best classic Rhythm and Blues and Rockabilly on terrific ten-inch albums.
On each Multigroove release, you get a selection of 12 tracks from a well-known Rockabilly artist collecting together their best-known tracks and often a couple of much lesser-known items that have not been released on vinyl before. Minigroove does the same for Rhythm and Blues artists. The sound quality on each album is of the highest quality and the packaging is a real treat with great graphics and photos reproduced with such pinpoint clarity that they seem like a whole new picture.
These albums are mainly classic tracks from known artists. Many of these artists have had an album or two out (some like Chuck Berry has had masses of issues) but the joy of these issues is that they are not for complete-ist nerds but for those of us that want great music. These really are the best of the best.
So let’s take a couple of albums at random as examples.
We all know the rollin’ piano boogie man, Roy Hall, and his great Decca rockabilly tracks that have been classics since they were first re-issued on the groundbreaking MCA Rare Rockabilly in 1975. Now, this is where Multigroove comes into its own because we are not restricted to just one label or period of time. We get some of Roy’s Fortune, Hi Q and even, unissued at the time, Sun tracks all gathered together covering his output from 1951 Dirty Boogie to 1969 She Sure Can Rock Me. A great trip through time with an artist who stuck to his own sounds as fashions came and went. The tracks are selected, in our opinion, as the best examples of his style and each is a real house rocker. Roy exemplifies artists who may be overlooked because of their familiarity. Hearing such great tracks gathered together really makes it clear how superb his output was.
Eddy or Eddie, as he is on most of his early 45s, is a tough Rockin Blues Chicago guitar player and singer whose first 45 was issued in 1958. He was ‘discovered’ by the ‘blues revival’ set with his 1980 Rooster Blues album The Chief and more contemporary electric albums followed but his earlier killer Rock n Roll was pretty much ignored.
Thankfully we have Minigroove to put that right by issuing the first collection of his early tracks but also including a few late but great tracks that are not available elsewhere on vinyl. This is the first album to do this and this shows what Mini / Multi Groove is all about – showing that artists we all know for the odd track have a fine back catalogue that has been scattered across 45s and various compilation albums if they have been reissued at all.
What were your best purchases in 2022? Tell us in the comments below what your favourite find of last year was.