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Various Artists - Night Train to Nashville, Vol. 2 Print E-mail
Tuesday, 20 September 2005

various artists

Night Train to Nashville, Vol. 2
format: 16-bit stereo CDs (2)
label: Lost Highway
release year: 2005
performance: 8
sound: 6
reviewed by: John Sutton-Smith

Image Nashville may be known as the undisputed capital of country music, and rightly so, but the Tennessee town is only just across state, a few hundred miles down I-40, from Memphis, arguably the capital of soul music, and this album is proof positive that Music City is also rich in the historic strains of rhythm and blues.

Following last year’s Grammy-winning collection, Lost Highway has again teamed up with the Country Music Hall of Fame for Night Train to Nashville: Music City Rhythm & Blues, 1945-1970, Vol.2 -- another remarkable collection that illustrates how rich, varied and deep Nashville's R&B scene was during a 25-year period in which the city solidified its country reputation. The first volume garnered a Grammy Award as the best historical recording of 2004, and both volumes accompany the Museum’s same-titled multimedia exhibition, which opened in March 2004 and closes in December this year.

Arranged chronologically, Night Train to Nashville draws from more than 20 record labels in tracing the progression of African-American music from WWII through jump blues, R&B and doo-wop to early rock and roll and Southern soul, which drew blacks and whites together even as, outside the studio doors, civil rights protests threatened to tear the country apart. The set contains 17 tracks that have been unavailable domestically since release, seven of them making their CD debut here, and a booklet that includes extensive song notes and rare photos.

Although the major focus is on Nashville-based artists, the collection also includes great material from renowned out-of-towners like Ivory Joe Hunter, Clyde McPhatter, Esther Phillips and John Coltrane (as a member of Gay Crosse’s band). Many of the tracks here are familiar to longtime listeners in one form or another; there are a number of country songs that became R&B hits and vice versa - Esther Phillips’ 1962 “Release Me” had previously been a big country chart hit, while Bernard Hardison’s “Too Much” was later a pop chart topper for Elvis Presley, Christine Kittrell’s “I’m a Woman” was covered by Peggy Lee, and the Gladiolas’ “Little Darlin’” was covered by the Diamonds and was on the soundtrack of “American Graffiti.” Meanwhile the Beatles, Marshall Crenshaw, Pearl Jam and others have covered the Arthur Alexander chestnut “Soldier of Love.”

It’s a remarkable collection, both as an historical document and as the perfect party mix tape, with tracks like “Soul-Poppin” from Johnny Jones & the King Casuals and the Fabulettes’ “Screamin’ and Shoutin.” It’s a wonderful reminder that soul music wasn’t restricted to West Tennessee.

Many of these tracks have been restored from the late ‘40s and ‘50s, and what they might have lost in fidelity is more than compensated for in the warmth and vitality of the recordings. Horns and vocals often shine through in soulful abandon, and the mixes allow for the energy to flow freely. It is indeed one of those rare records that make you say, “They just don’t make ‘em like that any more.”

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