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Monday, May 5, 2014

Carl Perkins: Whole Lotta Shakin'


1) Whole Lotta Shakin'; 2) Tutti Frutti; 3) Shake, Rattle & Roll; 4) Sittin' On Top Of The World; 5) Ready Teddy; 6) Long Tall Sally; 7) That's All Right; 8) Where The Rio De Rosa Flows; 9) Good Rockin' Tonight; 10) I Got A Wo­man; 11) Hey, Good Lookin'; 12) Jenny Jenny.

Every Sun artist had to leave Sun Records sooner or later, just because that is the way of the world and all, but few Sun artists, upon leaving their alma mater, suffered as ignobly as Carl did. Although they still let him put out original compositions as singles, the one and only LP he cut in the 1950s for Columbia was this openly dreadful collection of covers — take one look at the tracklist and you will see that it consists of almost nothing but big, well-worn-out (already by 1958) rock'n'roll hits for Little Richard, Bill Haley, Elvis, and Jerry Lee Lewis. The last thing the world needed in late 1958 was yet another take on the classics from somebody whose chief asset was songwriting, not impersonating.

I wouldn't dare to say that it all sounds totally forced, and that Carl wasn't having himself a ball with at least some of this stuff — he may not have written these songs, but he obviously had to love them, since they are so right up his alley of interests. The problem is that he does not seem at all to be in real charge of the sessions. Although Columbia's production values are slightly (but only slightly) higher than those of Sun, the actual recordings are not at all beneficial for Carl. The sound is almost completely dominated by session players — a piano guy (Marvin Hughes) and a sax guy (Andrew Goodrich) — who are not bad, per se, but hardly outstanding, and end up drowning out Carl's vocals and guitar to the point that you are no longer exactly sure of who the hell is Carl Perkins and why we should bother with his brand of rockabilly in the first place.

The only curious, and somewhat successful, idea on the entire album was to turn ʽSittin' On Top Of The Worldʼ, formerly played as a slow country-blues piece by everybody from The Missis­sippi Sheiks to Howlin' Wolf, into a lightning-speed rock'n'roll number — giving it the same treatment that Carl gave to Blind Lemon Jefferson's ʽMatchbox Bluesʼ during his tenure at Sun. Except that ʽMatchboxʼ sounded «gritty», whereas this rendition is just a fun, forgettable frolick with nary a guitar solo in sight — just the sax. If they could get King Curtis at least...

Vocal-wise, Carl is in good form, but he never gives other people's songs the same kind of sly, sexy reading he gives his own — every now and then, he tends to overscream (sometimes getting out of tune in the process), and, worst of all, as long as you remember Little Richard, Elvis, and even Jerry Lee doing the same songs, Carl's relative lack of power and singing technique remains a constant problem. On the cover of Hank Williams' ʽHey, Good Lookin'ʼ, he doesn't even try — the original was all about drawing out those opening notes ("h-e-e-ey, good lookin', wha-a-a-t you got cookin'..."), whereas Carl just swallows them completely; strange, because it didn't used to be that bad, at least on songs like ʽSure To Fallʼ he could show some decent range.

At the end of the day, it does begin to feel suspiciously like a hackjob; I know the details not, but either Carl was pissed off at his new label for demanding that he cover other people's hits, or, if not, then something simply did not work out. Maybe he was uncomfortable with the new session band, or the new recording studio, or something like that, but one thing's for certain: Whole Lot­ta Shakin' is quite far from being the best possible introduction to the guy and explanation of his genius. In fact, it is one of those albums that sort of explains the beginning of the temporary de­cline of rock'n'roll in the late 1950s — with lackluster sessions like these coming from estab­lished icons, you'd want to think, sure enough, that rock'n'roll had passed his prime, and that it was high time to try out something truly new, like Chubby Checker, or Bobby Darin. Thumbs down; no need to hunt this down, unless you're on an epic quest to collect every single version of ʽReady Teddyʼ and ʽLong Tall Sallyʼ ever recorded.

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