Various Artists

The songs of Vee-Jay: The Definitive Collection read like a badass juke-joint jukebox: "Big Boss Man," "Boom Boom," "Duke of Earl," "It Hurts Me Too," "Every Beat of Your Heart." At 86 tracks over four discs, this anthology celebrates a premier R&B label that at one time was bigger than either Motown or Chess. History best remembers Vee-Jay for releasing the first Beatles records in America, but its real legacy lies in the amazing roster it established and supported: the Pips (Gladys was there, but they weren't Gladys Knight and the Pips yet), soul smoothie Jerry Butler, the Staples Singers and huge Top 40 hitmakers the Four Seasons. Vee-Jay also issued amazing sides by lesser-known bluesmen like J.B. Lenoir, Snooky Pryor, Billy Preston and Dexter Gordon, as well as off-mainstream acts like quirky maverick country singer-songwriter Hoyt Axton. For anyone interested in the golden age of American recordings, Vee-Jay: The Definitive Collection is exactly that.

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