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Percy Mayfield 's songs are full of deep, fathomless fears and a kind of ominous, desperate loneliness that made him the master of the desolate ballad, and even his rare uptempo tracks have a sort of intangible pathos at the center (his best-known song, "Hit the Road Jack," is a perfect example). This second installment in Classic Records' chronological survey of his earliest work concentrates on Mayfield 's Specialty Records output between 1951 and 1954, just prior to his departure for Chess Records in 1955. These songs are best appreciated in small doses, since on the surface at least they're all of a type, generally slow-burning tales that reflect the fear of rejection and abandonment. What redeems them is Mayfield 's subtle touch as a songwriter, which gives the best of these laments a deep emotional realness that lifts them out of cliché territory, and his plain, unadorned, and deceptively laconic singing style that makes him his own best interpreter, even though many other artists have covered his songs (including the great Ray Charles ). Among the standouts here are the exhausted-sounding "How Deep Is the Well," the ominous "The River's Invitation," and the stark, emotionally spent "You Don't Exist No More." There are a couple of upbeat numbers as well, like the crisp, jaunty "Louisiana" and the goofy (at least by Mayfield standards) "Loose Lips." Although he seems to have constantly recycled the same dark, fearful mood in his material, Mayfield never resorted to easy triteness in his lyrics, and as a result, there is really nobody quite like him in either the blues or R&B genres.


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