BUDDY HOLLY: DOWN THE LINE (1948-1959/2009)
CD I: 1) My Two-Timin' Woman; 2) Footprints In The Snow; 3) Flower Of My Heart; 4) Door To My Heart; 5) Soft Place In My Heart; 6) Gotta Get You Near Me Blues; 7) I Gambled My Heart; 8) You And I Are Through; 9) Down The Line; 10) Baby, Let's Play House; 11) Moonlight Baby (Baby, Won't You Come Out Tonight); 12) I Guess I Was Just A Fool; 13) Don't Come Back Knockin'; 14) Love Me; 15) Gone; 16) Gone [alternate take]; 17) Have You Ever Been Lonely [alternate take]; 18) Have You Ever Been Lonely; 19) Brown-Eyed Handsome Man; 20) Good Rockin' Tonight; 21) Rip It Up; 22) Blue Monday; 23) Honky Tonk; 24) Blue Suede Shoes; 25) Shake Rattle and Roll [partial]; 26) Bo Diddley; 27) Ain't Got No Home; 28) Holly Hop.
CD II: 1) Last Night [undubbed]; 2) Not Fade Away [partial alternate overdub]; 3) Peggy Sue [alternate take]; 4) Oh Boy! [undubbed]; 5) That's My Desire; 6) Take Your Time; 7) Fool's Paradise [alternate take]; 8) Fool's Paradise [undubbed master]; 9) Fool's Paradise [alternate #2 undubbed]; 10) Think It Over [take 1]; 11) Think It Over [take 2]; 12) Think It Over [take 3]; 13) Love's Made A Fool Of You [undubbed]; 14) That'll Be The Day (Greetings To Bob Thiele); 15) That'll Be The Day (Greetings To Murray Deutsch); 16) That's What They Say (With Fragment); 17) What To Do; 18) Peggy Sue Got Married; 19) That Makes It Tough; 20) Crying, Waiting, Hoping; 21) Learning The Game; 22) Wait Till The Sun Shines Nellie; 23) Slippin' And Slidin' [slow version #1]; 24) Slippin' And Slidin' [slow version #2]; 25) Slippin' And Slidin' [fast version]; 26) Buddy & Maria Elena Talking In Apartment (Dialogue); 27) Dearest [fragment]; 28) Dearest; 29) Untitled Instrumental; 30) Love Is Strange; 31) Smokey Joe's Café.
While this package is not completely-thoroughly exhaustive, as any serious Holly fan will tell you, it contains everything and much more than the «average Joe», interested in taking a serious glance at Buddy's underwater part of the iceberg, would ever want to hear. In fact, everybody's best bet at a comprehensive Buddy-shrine would probably be to own one of the larger, multi-disc collections of «official» stuff, and this double-CD package of rarities (many of them officially released for the first time here) as a supporting companion.
All the tracks are arranged here in strict chronological order — to such an extent that Disc 1 is properly «The Formative Years» and Disc 2 is «The Blossom Years» (just two of them, really, from early 1957 to early 1959). Sound quality ranges from unlistenable, especially on the earliest recordings, to decent on the later ones, but most importantly, everything is undubbed — including «The Apartment Demos», which, up until 2009, could only be heard in their original form with the aid of your local friendly bootlegger. Not that a song like ʽCrying, Waiting, Hopingʼ is really supposed to be so very much better in its demo form than in the studio-completed Crickets arrangement (with «echo» vocals and everything) — but it goes without saying that one should have free access to the original artist version as well.
The first disc is interesting mostly in «journey» terms. The first track is a home recording of a 12-year old Buddy playing guitar and singing Hank Snow's ʽMy Two-Timin' Womanʼ — the voice not yet broken, a delightful kiddie soprano that duly disappears five years later on the second track, ʽFootprints In The Snowʼ. Recording quality for these home tapes is abysmal, but it's a miracle they exist at all — apparently, Buddy borrowed a wire recorder from a friend who worked in a music shop for the Hank Snow cover, and the results managed to survive.
Later on, several tracks document the «Buddy & Bob» duo — a bunch of country and bluegrass tunes that, as a rule, are rather facelessly played, sung, and recorded, but hardly «bad» for high school entertainment level (it seems that most of them were self-penned as well, scoring them additional points for derivative creativity). The transition occurs by the time they reach the last of these: ʽDown The Lineʼ, which gives the name to the entire compilation, is where they make the definitive move from country-western to rockabilly aesthetics (odd as it is, the song has nothing to do with Roy Orbison's own ʽDown The Lineʼ, which would only be released one year later, in 1956 rather than June 1955). No wonder — Elvis had just left the building.
From there onwards, the rest of Disc 1 mostly consists of Buddy hitting on everyone: Elvis, Chuck, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, etc., gradually groping for his own style, but certainly not finding it all at once — he even goes as far as to cover Clarence "Frogman" Henry's ʽAin't Got No Homeʼ, despite having no qualification whatsoever to match the Frogman's vocal «talents», but it's actually a good thing, since no one would probably want to see Holly stuck in the role of a voice clown, mimicking little girls and lonely frogs all his life.
As Disc 2 rolls along, we finally emerge from the stage of «intriguing historical document» and get rewarded by demos, alternate versions, and rehearsal takes of the real classic stuff. Some of these are a bit of an overkill, e. g. three consecutive versions of ʽThink It Overʼ — a classic number all right, but not exactly a ʽStrawberry Fields Foreverʼ for us to be so much interested in the slowly unfurling story of its creation. But the acoustic «Apartment Demos», without any echo effects on Buddy's voice or electric rhythm parts obscuring the man's original melodies, are quite a treasure — the only thing I am not sure about is the inclusion of three and a half minutes of conversation between Buddy and his wife in the same apartment, which I tend to skip because it makes you feel uneasy, like spying on the man's underwear. Studio chatter during work hours is one thing, but this here is kinda personal. (Besides, Maria Elena's croaky Puerto Rican laughter is only marginally more irritating than Buddy's Texan guffaw, if you'll excuse me for these slurry particularities). Additionally, there is a fast version of ʽSlippin' and Slidin'ʼ here, showing that Buddy probably gave up on the bad idea of slowing down the song before forgetting about it altogether; an undubbed ʽLove Is Strangeʼ, notorious for having once served as Buddy's last «original» minor chart entry as late as 1969; and even a cover of ʽSmokey Joe's Caféʼ, showcasing the man's interest in the comical (Robins/Coasters) side of Atlantic R&B — or maybe just in the songwriting talents of Leiber & Stoller.
All in all, for «historical and cultural significance», this package gets a natural thumbs up, but do keep in mind that its «entertainment value» is limited — I seriously doubt that anybody would want to listen to the first disc more than once, and the «golden core» of the second disc altogether takes up about twenty minutes, not more: the rest is all alternate takes, false starts, jingles, and oddities. On the other hand, considering that Buddy's artistic evolution was arguably one of the most interesting musical stories of the early rock'n'roll movement, there is hardly another Fifties' rock'n'roller of the same caliber that would be more deserving of such an intelligently assembled package. And, come to think of it, was there another Fifties' rock'n'roller that had the luck to be captured on tape at the tender age of twelve?
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