August 23, 2006

When amped-up rhythm & blues collided with hillbilly boogie in the mid-1950s, rockabilly was born and teenagers across the U.S. claimed the rowdy offspring as their own. This four-disc collection celebrates the over-the-top sounds of that brief, yet groundbreaking era when the electric guitar became synonymous with sex, rebellion, and antisocial behavior. The jivey sounds of slap-back riffs and Bigsby-wrangled tritones permeate every cut, and the stuttering, hiccupping vocals, clickity upright bass, and scattershot drums sound edgy and weird even today. The pioneers—Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent, Ricky Nelson, Link Wray, Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Johnny Burnette, Eddie Cochran, Dale Hawkins, Roy Orbison, Wanda Jackson, Lorrie and Larry Collins, and Jerry Lee Lewis—are all present and accounted for in their earliest and rawest incarnations. But it’s the lesser known musicians and singers who give this collection its depth. It’s hard to hear Commonwealth Jones’ perfect storm of swampy blues and spring reverb in “Who’s Been Here,” or the intensely echoed Travis picking in Fat Daddy Holmes’ “Chicken Rock” without hollering in delight.

This is radical stuff: In John & Jackie’s “Little Girl”—which was even banned from jukeboxes—Jackie’s orgasmic howls leave absolutely nothing to the imagination, and predate Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You Baby” by two decades. And—whoa—is that a Theremin wailing in Freddie & the Hitch-Hikers’ “Sinners”? It’s hard to imagine how ’50s America would have reacted to the certified insanity of Hasil Adkins’ “Chicken Walk.” The set includes a 64-page book crammed with photos, essays, and background info on each of the 101 songs. You’ll especially dig Deke Dickerson’s piece on the ace pickers—including Scotty Moore, Grady Martin, Hank Garland, James Burton, Joe Maphis, and Cliff Gallup—who helped define the rockabilly sound with their real gone licks and solos. (Rhino).
—Andy Ellis

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