Houston Might Be Heaven: Rockin’ R&B in Texas, 1947–1951
Major labels are often maligned for their draconian business practices, but one thing they’ve always done well is archive and repackage vintage music. With CD sales in steep decline, though, the big players have all but given up producing lushly packaged box sets. Cue the fly-by-night independents. HOUSTON MIGHT BE HEAVEN: ROCKIN’ R&B IN TEXAS, 1947–1951 (JSP) isn’t what you’d call lush: its four CDs are held together in a cardboard sleeve inscribed with short, unfocused liner notes. And presumably for financial reasons, it pretty much ignores the city’s R&B A-list: Lightnin’ Hopkins isn’t here, and neither are Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Amos Milburn, Illinois Jacquet, or the classic Houston recordings of Bobby “Blue” Bland. Instead, Heaven focuses on the music of the all-but-forgotten stars of the era, such as the manic piano fire of Little Willie Littlefield, the swinging verve of L. C. Williams, the lowdown blues of Smokey Hogg, the brassy shouting of Hubert Robinson, and the idiosyncratic pickings of Peppermint Harris (whose “Rainin’ in My Heart” is one of the few legitimate hits here). It’s a pleasure to hear a young Big Mama Thornton (the rare woman to crack this boys’ club) offering her trademark grit, but the set isn’t perfect. The haphazard selection seems based on availability rather than careful curation, and devoting a full disc each to Hogg and Harris is overkill. Yet in this day and age, the producers should be applauded, if only because no one with greater resources is bothering to do this sort of thing.