Wilbert Harrison: He’s Off to Kansas City

20th July 2017

Title: Kansas City 1953-1962 Sides

Label: Soul Jam

He’s known for two tracks: Kansas City, the title track of this CD, and Let’s Work Together but he’s more than that, much more.

After a period drinking in gospel and country influences and time spent forging a new calypso style, he moved to  Newark, New Jersey, Savoy producer producer Fred Mendelsohn convinced him to sign for the label.  Harrison recorded several sessions for Savoy, including Terry Fell’s country tune Don’t Drop It (seen on this CD). These early tracks feature some superb backing musicians, the cream of the New York crop including arranger Leroy Kirkland, saxist Buddy Lucas and guitarists Mickey Baker and Kenny Burrell. It was only when Harrison recorded Kansas City for Fury that he hit the chart heights. Follow-up single releases stopped Harrison building momentum for a stellar career because he recorded Kansas City for Fury while still under contract at Savoy. He lost and the lawyers won, as ever.

This CD includes a whopping 30 remastered tracks featuring his time at the Savoy label but also his time at the lesser know Neptune, Fury , Chart and Deluxe labels. Of the 30 listed here, 10 would form the LP, Kansas City, originally issued by Sphere Sound.

In mastering terms, I was pleasantly surprised regarding overall sound quality. Right from the off with The Horse, the soundstage is quite open and airy, unexpectedly so, in fact, giving the music a loose and relaxed presentation. Any compression is subtly applied. There is a slight pinching on the vocal, on occasion – Little School Girl is one example of this – but, really, considering the period and the compression that would have been applied to the original recording, this is a rather churlish criticism. On the whole, the sonics on this CD are admirable indeed.