Liner Note Author: Tony Rounce.
The Bihari Brothers obtained the rights to Kent Records from Lee Silver in 1954 -- Silver never released more than two singles on the imprint -- but didn't turn it into their primary concern until 1958, when they shuttered RPM and Modern. The brothers turned to Kent as a way to shed their roster, but they kept their biggest stars, B.B. King, Etta James, and Jesse Belvin. Within a year or so, James and Belvin defected to other labels, leaving King the big man at Kent. Ace's 2015 Unlock the Lock: The Kent Records Story, Vol. 1 chronicles these early years, running from 1958 to 1962 in the form of a 48-track, double-disc set where 30 cuts make their CD debut (14 of these, mostly alternate takes of well-circulated material, see their first-ever release here). Ten of these cuts belong to King, and he's often the touchstone for the jumping blues and rhythm that make up the rest of the collection: it's robust, rocking R&B and blues that walk the crossover line. There are several attempts to ride the Twist bandwagon -- Joe Houston is "Doing the Twist," Little Joe Hinton attempts "The Whip Twist," Teddy Reynolds tries "Do You Wanna Twist," and King gets into the game with "Mashing the Popeye" -- and there are also hints of string-saturated pop (Pat Hunt's "Goodnight My Love"), plus a bit of wild rockabilly (the Barker Brothers' "Hey Little Mama" is an anomaly but Jesse James' rampaging "South's Gonna Rise Again" kicks, carving a niche between R&B and rock & roll). Generally, though, Unlock the Lock finds a comfortable place between uptown R&B and juke joint blues, proof that as the '50s became the '60s, R&B records started getting wilder and sillier as they tried to find their way onto the charts. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine