by Jeff Burger
If you listen to oldies radio or are simply getting old, you probably know of Shirley & Lee as the duo who scored a 1956 Top 20 pop hit (and R&B chart-topper) with “Let the Good Times Roll.” The song appears on countless compilations and is now regarded as a classic of early rock.
But there was more to Shirley & Lee than that number: they also enjoyed major 1950s R&B hits with “I’m Gone,” “Feel So Good,” and “When I Saw You”; and their vocal style—which eschewed harmonies in favor of call-and-response singing that contrasted Shirley Goodman’s soprano with Leonard Lee’s baritone—appears to have influenced numerous subsequent artists.
Given that their heyday was the 1950s, it’s also notable that Lee wrote much of their material, occasionally in collaboration with Goodman (whose coauthoring credits include “Let the Good Times Roll”). Plus, they hailed from New Orleans and benefited from its wealth of musical talent: their backup included drummer Earl Palmer, who worked with Little Richard, among many others; and they were under the wing of recording engineer and studio owner Cosimo Matassa, who played a huge role in the development of early rock and R&B in the region.
The Complete Singles As & Bs 1952–62, a two-disc, 64-track collection, offers a satisfying chronological look at Shirley & Lee’s entire career, starting with their earliest years, when they pretended on record to be sweethearts: like Paul and Paula, but with a whole lot more soul, they chronicled the ups and downs of a relationship in numbers like “Shirley Come Back to Me,” “Shirley’s Back,” “The Proposal,” and “Two Happy People.” On these and later recordings, both of them prove to be good singers; Shirley, who radiates personality and sounds a bit redolent of Claudine Clark (“Party Lights”), is particularly compelling. And their sax-spiced, rhythmic backup is on a par with that enjoyed by such other New Orleans artists as Fats Domino.
Recording as Shirley (and Company), Goodman had a short-lived comeback in the disco era with a 1975 Top 20 hit called “Shame, Shame, Shame.” It’s not particularly memorable, but much of this earlier work certainly is.
Resonant Rogues, Autumn of the World. If you had to pick a label for this third album from the North Carolina–based Resonant Rogues, you’d probably settle on folk, but their passionate music defies classification: you can hear the influence of everything from swing, jazz, and country blues to Balkan and Appalachian styles. Leading the charge are accordionist/banjo player Sparrow and guitarist Keith Smith, both of whom sing; the group also features members and guests on violin, standup bass, trumpet, trombone, cello, and pedal steel. Their rich, adventurous, variously joyful and sad music is beautifully constructed and full of surprises.
Counting Crows, Unplugged & Rare. You can tell this is a bootleg by the many misspellings on the list of credits but not by the well-recorded music, which comes from live FM radio broadcasts dating from 1992 through 1997. There’s no shortage of officially released live Counting Crows material available, but even if you’re enough of a fan to have all of it, you’ll probably want this CD, too: some of the arrangements differ significantly from other versions, and so do the generally excellent performances, which are all acoustic. The program focuses mostly on the group’s best-known songs, including “Anna Begins,” “Have You Seen Me Lately,” “Omaha,” “Rain King,” and “Round Here.” Also on the bill: the great “Mr. Jones,” which appears twice, in very different versions.
Jeff Burger’s website, byjeffburger.com, contains more than four decades’ worth of music reviews and commentary. His books include the recently published Dylan on Dylan: Interviews and Encounters as well as Lennon on Lennon: Conversations with John Lennon, Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters, and Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters.