This two-CD set from Proper -- the U.K. company that's been issuing multi-disc sets from a brace of American stars -- covers all of the Ravens
' sides from 1946 through 1952, starting with the Hub label, prior to the arrival of tenor Maithe Marshall
in the group's line-up. Those sides encompass some of the most subtle and sophisticated examples of R&B harmony vocals of their era ("My Sugar Is So Refined," "Out Of A Dream") and stirring rhythm numbers as well -- it's easy to understand, hearing these tracks nearly 60 years later, why the group was considered such a hot performing property at the time; they were nearly ten years ahead of their time on songs like "Bye Bye Baby Blues." Those sides come from noisier but brighter sources than the National (and King) sides that follow immediately afterward, but the music is so powerful, that the performances lose none of their luster. And the second disc, opening with "Oh Babe," and "Walkin' With The Blues" from 1950, featuring the Ravens
' Jimmy Ricks
fronting the Benny Goodman Sextet
(and sharing the spotlight with Nancy Reed
), is worth the price of admission just for those tracks -- which, incidentally, sound state-of-the-art and make one wonder what Proper is doing with Columbia's early-50's sides that Columbia isn't. The other Columbia sides, alas, show the Ravens
moving just a little too far into a pop vein, and the group doesn't get back to a pure R&B sound until they join Mercury Records, the period which closes out this compilation. The audio quality is close to state-of-the-art throughout, limited only by the condition of the original source materials, and the annotation is one of the most thorough accounts of the group, their music, and their era that one can buy.