Fantastic Voyage is a reissue label that specialises in releasing material (across all kinds of genres) that has recently slipped out of copyright. Best known for archive compilations, here the label turns its spotlight onto a veritable giant – James Brown. On ‘I’ll Go Crazy’, the Fantastic Voyagers have managed to collect every track the soon-to-be-Godfather recorded between 1956 and 1960 and it really is a remarkable piece of work. Across 2 CDs we get 47 tracks that show an artist working hard (he never gave less than 100% to anything did he?) to find a style and sound that harnessed his remarkable voice, passion and enthusiasm in a way that would be commercially successful.
The set is arranged in chronological order and begins with Brown’s initial breakthrough – 56’s iconic ‘Please, Please, Please’. Fronting the Famous Flames, the recently-paroled Brown must have thought he was on his way, but over the next two years all his singles flopped and listen hard here and you’ll learn why. Our man was trying to be all kinds of singers – notably Hank Ballard, Ray Charles and Little Richard – rather than JB. He was, though, as we’ve said, determined and hard working and he knew if he stuck at it, success would eventually come again – as it did in 1958 with ‘Try Me’. That song – along with ‘Please, Please, Please’, ‘Think’ and ‘I’ll Go Crazy’ form the natural focal points to the album but there’s numerous other treasures – like the almost lilting ‘It Was You’ and the rocking ‘Mashed Potatoes (parts 1 and 2)’ (normally credited, of course, to Nat Kendricks and The Swans).
The album comes complete with a full booklet in which Brown expert, Cliff White chronicles the rise of Brown and the evolution of the Famous Flames. There’s also plenty of recording information and an honest appreciation of the man’s status. Like I said – a remarkable piece of work.