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Monday, June 2, 2014

Carl Perkins: Ol' Blue Suede's Back

CARL PERKINS: OL' BLUE SUEDE'S BACK (1978)

1) Rock Around The Clock; 2) That's All Right Mama; 3) Kaw Liga; 4) Tutti Frutti; 5) I'm In Love Again; 6) Blue Suede Shoes; 7) Be Bop A Lula; 8) Maybellene; 9) Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On; 10) Hang Up My Rock'n'Roll Shoes; 11) Shake, Rattle And Roll; 12) Rock On Around The World.

Right, like anybody really needed «Ol' Blue Suede» back in 1978 — at the height of the disco / punk / New Wave explosion — and with a bunch of well-worn rockabilly standards at that. At least he could have tried to give us another On Top, but for some reason, United Artists wouldn't have it, and we ended up with something stupidly labeled «Carl Perkins' Tribute To Rock'n'Roll» — stupid, because how can somebody who actually invented rock'n'roll (or at least, a significant part of it) pay tribute to rock'n'roll? Imagine «Bob Dylan Covering The Wallflowers: A Tribute To My Son Jakob Dylan», or something like that.

Adding injury to insult, Carl's backing band for the album is stiff and uninspiring; his guitar sound is a little weird, too, much of it sifted through a special «chorus effects» box that was probably intended to «modernize» the songs for a somewhat more techno-savvy audience of 1978 (Kraft­werk fans and all that jazz), but it does not look like Perkins himself was totally at home with it, or, at least, it is not altogether evident that this particular effect, responsible for a «glassy» tinge to the sound, is exactly what he's been waiting for all these years in order to prove that he can still cut it in an impressive manner.

There is exactly one new song, placed in the anthemic final spot: ʽRock On Around The Worldʼ (what else could we be expected to do?), a well-meaning, but quickly forgettable piece of echoey twist with the old gimmick of introducing the instruments one-by-one, as if to demonstrate the proper way a rock'n'rolling atmosphere should be cooked up. Speaking of demonstration, the ori­ginal record, as well as some of its reissues, came packed together with bits of narration — Carl introducing each song with a brief story or moral, as one of several «rock'n'roll lessons», and, in fact, Ol' Blue Suede's Back does perhaps work better as a textbook, written by the old master for the youngsters, than a musical album as such. Except that even from that angle, it may have worked in 1978, being fresh and all, but who'd need a 1978 textbook on the music of 1956 in 2014? That's downright esoteric.

Luckily, in 2003 Sanctuary Records decided to re-release this long forgotten clunker as part of a 2-CD package (Jet Propelled) that also includes some fun live tracks recorded for the BBC as well as, most importantly, 13 additional songs from a follow-up album to Ol' Blue Suede that never materialized — even though, song by song, it is much more interesting than the «rock'n'roll tribute»: an actual new album with some country and folk oldies interspersed with some originals in an almost intriguing way. It even includes a corny, but totally heartfelt tribute to the freshly departed you-know-who — ʽThe Whole World Misses Youʼ is probably a bit too overtly senti­mental and textbookishly-gallant to make you shed an honest tear for The King, but Carl was a simple contry boy at heart, and besides, he did probably want to record a tribute for Elvis that would sound like an overblown Elvis ballad itself. However, it is really all those newer country-rock tunes, adapted by Carl to his own stylistics, like Steve Earle's ʽMustang Wineʼ, that provide the bulk of the fun — and although the backing band remains stiff, it still sounds like he's actually interested in doing these songs, rather than having one more go at ʽTutti Fruttiʼ. In short, it is to­tally unclear why and unjust that Ol' Blue Suede's Back was officially released, while this un­titled follow-up remained on the shelf — even if, judging from a charts-only point of view, they probably had more or less equal chance to cause a ripple among record buyers (none).

Consequently, if you see Jet Propelled, have a go at it — but don't bother with these rockabilly re-recordings; like 99% of «greatest hits» re-recorded by artists twenty to fifty years on, their only point of attraction was to prove to contemporaries that the artist was still alive and cookin'. Since Carl has not been alive and cookin' for quite some time now, Ol' Blue Suede's Back is no more than a historical curio.

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