Audio Remasterer: Mike Milchner.
Liner Note Author: Randy Poe.
Recording information: American Studios, Memphis; Fame Studios, Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
Photographer: Gilles Pétard.
Stylistically flexible saxophonist, R&B instrumentalist supreme, and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee King Curtis released recordings on Atlantic subsidiary Atco during 1958-1959 and 1967-1971. This three-disc, 66-track anthology, sharply assembled by the Real Gone label, collects the singles from the two periods. It includes all the A-sides and B-sides, along with the previously unreleased and decent two-part "Ridin' Thumb," which was intended to be the follow-up to the white-hot version of Buddy Miles' "Them Changes," retitled "Changes" and excerpted from the dynamite Live at the Fillmore West. As a leader, Curtis Ousley achieved irregular commercial success with the singles format. Only 11 of the 32 A-sides here touched Billboard's pop chart, while seven registered on the R&B chart. ("Soul Twist," his lone number one R&B hit, is not included, as it launched the Enjoy label between the Atco stints.) Curtis' 45 peak with Atco came in 1967 with "Memphis Soul Stew," a funky and burning original he wrote, and a sweet version of "Ode to Billie Joe," both of which were featured on King Size Soul. Many cuts deserved better, while others -- like 1966's "Spanish Harlem," which is the 1960 recording minus Ben E. King's vocal, plus overdubs from Curtis and guitarist Cornell Dupree -- are much closer to curiosities than they are classics. Popular acceptance or rejection notwithstanding, much of the material is wonderful, or at least fascinating, even in instances where the saxophonist was understandably motivated more by a paycheck than by artistry. His output was always held in high regard, exemplified by the Grammy he picked up for his non-charting version of Joe South's "Games People Play" (co-produced by Arif Mardin with Duane Allman on guitar). As Randy Poe points out in his illuminating liner notes, over 24 of these tracks "never appeared on a King Curtis LP during his lifetime," so the set has much more to offer than a typical digitization of singles. ~ Andy Kellman