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Published: 2004/03/30
by Pat Buzby

Night Train to Nashville: Music City Rhythm and Blues, 1945-1970 – various artists

CMF Records 024

Before hearing this set, I might not have thought it

possible to assemble two hours of Nashville R&B. As

it happens, the producers do rely on a broad

definition of both terms to pull things together, but

that's not a reason for complaint. Listening to Night

Train to Nashville is like tuning into an uncommonly

enlightened oldies station, and it's a good place to

grab some useful information about the evolution of

the pop music industry in the 1950s and '60s


Each of these 35 cuts is enjoyable, ranging from

early doo-wop to primitive blues and pop crossover

smashes. The '60s-themed second disc, in particular,

racks up one winner after another, including a few

tracks I knew (such as "Sunny"), some I'm glad to know

now (one offs from the likes of Clifford Curry or the

Valentines) and one I knew without realizing it

("Everlasting Love"). The first disc, concentrating

on the '50s, shows the give and take between the

cutesy ("Let's Trade a Little"), the dirty ("Baby

Let's Play House"), the churchy ("You Can Make It If

You Try"), and the rowdy (the Little Richard-esque

Esquerita's "Rockin' the Joint") as modern pop and R&B

began to come together. Because of the low-profile

status of R&B in this city, this set comes off a bit

more like a collection of musical side-trips than a

unified tale, but that's fitting enough given the

delightful chaos of this musical stage before the

industry gained control.

There are lessons for the rock historian throughout —

songs appear that drifted into the early repertoires

of Elvis Presley and the Beatles and musicians appear

who backed up some of Bob Dylan and Neil Young's

greatest work, and Etta James, in a live cut from

1963, gives a small but rowdy crowd the same blues

shouting that Janis Joplin would take to the hippie

audience a few years later. However, these artists

are equally endearing on their own terms — the cast of

characters includes the impresarios with their fingers

in multiple pies (writers/producers Ted Jarrett and

Bob Holmes), the one-hit wonders with little

remuneration but plentiful gratitude for their turn in

the spotlight (such as the penitentiary-based

Prisonaires), and those who went all the way to


Night Train to Nashville is the companion piece to a

museum exhibit, but the two-CD set is no dry history

lesson. Instead, it captures the days when listeners

stayed up late searching the dial for hidden musical

pleasures, which can now finally escape from hiding.

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