Various Artists

The Big Beat: The Dave Bartholomew Songbook

(Ace)

Various Artists, The Big Beat: The Dave Bartholomew Songbook (Ace Records)

Initially, this one blew me away, but this could have been so much better. There’s no way to understate Dave Bartholomew’s contribution to popular music, so many musicians are included to demonstrate the breadth of his influence. Local favorites are naturally included. Smiley, Fats, Bobby Mitchell, Roy Brown, the Pelicans, as well as Shirley and Lee are in the mix. Dave’s original version of “My Ding-A-Ling” and the still mind-boggling “The Monkey,” are included. Of the “outsiders,” Buddy Holly’s version of “Valley of Tears” is actually better than Fats’ original, and Johnny Burnette tears up “All By Myself.” Elvis’ treatment of “Witchcraft” is over-the-top and the Upsetters’ (actually Little Richard’s) version of “Every Night About This Time” is stunning. Even Brenda Lee doing “Walking to New Orleans” is a head-turner.

Being a UK release, this album’s got a British slant to it. Unfortunately, there are some simply dreadful tracks included by Englishmen, the exception being Dave Edmunds’ 1970 romp with “I Hear You Knockin’,” which still rocks the house. But sub-par tracks at the expense of, say, Billy Tate’s “Single Life,” “Certain Door” (by Smiley or Snooks) or Al Robinson’s “They Said It Couldn’t be Done,” makes no sense at all.

Oddly, at least four songs here weren’t written at all by Bartholomew, further muting the celebration. Still, there’s a lot to like here, and this is a fine tribute to the most important New Orleans musician/writer/producer ever.