Liner Note Author: Tony Rounce.
The second installment of Ace's new-millennial telling of The RPM Records Story picks up the narrative in 1953, the place where its predecessor No More Doggin' concluded. Like No More Doggin', Speak Easy mixes up original 45s with alternate takes and rarities, many of which were excavated by reissue producer Tony Rounce for this 2014 reissue. This approach occasionally misses the original versions of some major songs -- there's a newly found alternate of B.B. King's "Sweet Little Angel," for instance (the original "You Upset Me Baby" is here, though) -- which may be a mild frustration for some listeners but this is a boon for archivists and devotees, with 33 of the 54 songs never showing up on a previous Ace collection (a whopping 15 cuts bear 2014 copyrights, marking their first-ever appearances). This reliance on rarities doesn't dilute the overall impact of the collection, which makes a strong case for RPM being one of the liveliest and wildest of the Bihari Brothers' Modern Records subsidiaries during the '50s. Much of the first disc bears the greasy imprint of Ike Turner, who was the Brothers' A&R man and house musician, and once this down-and-dirty R&B starts to lose its hold -- not even the best efforts of Johnny "Guitar" Watson could stem the shifting tides -- up comes B.B. King, who retains that same raw vitality but has a smoother touch. This means the second disc is largely devoted to the fallout, containing some straight-up rock & roll and jumping harmony groups, along with teen-beat groups and a wild rarity by Paul Anka called "Blau-Wile-Deveest-Fontaine." The variety makes this disc a bit of a blast, but for R&B and blues fans the real legacy of RPM lies on that first disc, which feels like it could've been packaged with No More Doggin' with no problem whatsoever. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine