NAT KING COLE
The Very Best of Nat King Cole (Capitol, 2006)
Nat “King” Cole’s career saw two distinctive periods that cast him as a skilled jazz pianist and combo leader and, later, as a consummate pop crooner. Cole’s easygoing readings of “Mona Lisa,” “Nature Boy” and “(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons,” among the 28 tracks featured here, made him the first African-American pop stylist to break the color barrier and appeal to a wide array of multiracial record buyers.
Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964 (ABKCO, 2003)
From his initial turn as a gospel singer with the Soul Stirrers in the early 1950s through his redefinition as a secular hitmaker and proto-soul singer, Sam Cooke was a major star. He had it all: charisma, good looks and a can’t-lose, dynamic delivery. This two-disc set is compact but comprehensive-all of the hits, plus a taste of the gospel, some blues, some country and some timeless rock and roll.
SISTER ROSETTA THARPE
The Gospel of the Blues (Decca, 2003)
Sister Rosetta Tharpe had the dual distinction of being one of the most important gospel artists of the 20th century and, through no design of her own, a formidable influence on blues and R&B artists of the period. A powerful vocalist and stunning guitarist, she generally disavowed secular music. But for a time she did indulge, and this 18-track collection, on which she’s accompanied by A-list jazz and blues musicians, includes some of Tharpe’s finest work.
The Cosimo Matassa Story (Proper, 2007)
As the proprietor of J&M Studios in New Orleans, Cosimo Matassa was a seminal figure in the emergence of rhythm and blues in that city. Matassa’s facility served as the go-to studio for the likes of Little Richard, Fats Domino, Smiley Lewis, Lloyd Price, Earl King and Dave Bartholomew, among many others. This four-CD import box set collects 120 of those sides that were, and remain, essential to a full understanding of New Orleans music.
The Doo Wop Box (Rhino, 1994)
Between 1994 and 2000 Rhino released three four-CD box sets of doo-wop, each including 101 original recordings of prime-era group-harmony vocal music. Each is worth a listen, proving just how well this music holds up, but only the first remains in print. Broken down chronologically, it charts the growing sophistication of this relatively simple music, but the first disc, stocked with R&B by such groups as the Five Keys, the Orioles, the Flamingos and the Clovers, is the most essential of the dozen discs in the total collection.
NAT KING COLE