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Monday, May 12, 2014

Carl Perkins: Restless: The Columbia Recordings


1) Pink Pedal Pushers; 2) Rockin' Record Hop; 3) Jive After Five; 4) Just Thought I'd Call; 5) Where The Rio De Rosa Flows; 6) Because You're Mine; 7) That's All Right Mama; 8) Pop, Let Me Have The Car; 9) Levi Jacket (And A Long Tail Shirt); 10) Honey 'Cause I Love You; 11) Pointed Toe Shoes; 12) L-O-V-E-V-I-L-L-E; 13) Sister Twister; 14) Hambone; 15) All Mama's Children; 16) Just Coastin'; 17) Restless.

For more than a decade, Columbia's degree of interest in Carl was such that they did not let him record even one proper LP (dismayed as they were, perhaps, with the failure of Whole Lotta Sha­kin', as completely predictable as it was). He did manage to keep on putting out singles, on a rather steady basis in the late 1950s, then dwindling down to a tiny streak in the 1960s, alterna­ting between rockabilly and country, but hardly showing any big interest in all the new exciting developments in music — as this sampler, released in 1992 and containing a highly diagnostic, if far from complete, selection of those singles, amply shows.

The selection in question is at least a huge improvement on the disaster of Whole Lotta Shakin', and is far more recommendable for those who like Carl in particular and early rock'n'roll in gene­ral. Many of the songs are self-written, most of them are not as heavily obstructed by misguided production, and Carl's singing and guitar playing are generally in focus. Starting out with a new, «rockier» version of ʽPink Pedal Pushersʼ, and ending with the title track, released in 1969 and sounding every bit as if it could have been released in 1959 (with the possible exception of the backup singers and their slightly more modern touch of gospel-soul) — Restless rolls along at a restless pace indeed, and will be good clean fun for all those who just want to have fun.

Still, it seems perfectly clear to me why these singles, nice as they are, could never hold a candle to the Sun-era classics. All of them got Carl Perkins sort of «institutionalized» — the songs are not trying to delve into the subconscious, but are consciously written and recorded according to the set-in-stone rockabilly formula. Something like ʽRockin' Record Hopʼ, even if it tries to com­bine a rollicking Jerry Lee Lewis-style piano melody with a poppy, almost surf-like guitar solo to see what happens, still remains slightly «experimental» only in form rather than in the spirit — and most of the other songs do not have even that. The titles of the songs speak for themselves (ʽJive After Fiveʼ, ʽPointed Toe Shoesʼ, ʽLevi Jacketʼ etc.) — betraying them as doomed attempts to cash in on a formula that was quickly becoming outdated; and the lyrics, moods, and melodies have little chance of delivering the same amount of excitement as ʽBlue Suede Shoesʼ or ʽHoney Don'tʼ. In other words, do not expect to find anything here except for creative stagnation. This is «technically solid», «responsible» work, and I cannot rule out that Carl himself may have been proud of some of it, but it did not woo the public back then, and there is hardly any hope that these singles will be regarded as «forgotten gems» any time soon.

By the early 1960s, Carl could be occasionally budged to expand his horizons — Otis Black­well's ʽSister Twisterʼ deals (somewhat ironically) with you-know-what, and ʽHamboneʼ is a satirical dialog on the perils of stardom, recorded in the style of Bo Diddley — but much of his stuff also sounds as if he was secretly envying his more successful Sun-era pals like Elvis and Johnny Cash. Unfortunately, he did not have the creative genius and «social foresight» of Cash, and certainly nothing even close to the Great Promotional Machine that was programmed for the eternal rule of The King — trying to compete with either of these two, instead of focusing on his own thing, was like trying to corner a tank with a wooden spear. No doubt, a sympathetic wooden spear, worthy of a small, respectable thumbs up, but even the most diehard Carl Perkins fan, I think, would have to eventually admit that all the promotion in the world could not have helped this kind of material conquer it all over again.

Check "Restless: The Columbia Recordings" (CD) on Amazon

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