A man’s life lived out of a suitcase, Woody Guthrie’s My Dusty Road, inaugurates the new Woody Guthrie Legacy Series on Rounder Records. This four-CD boxed set is literally packaged in a suitcase and vital remnants of Guthrie’s vagabond life: unpublished photos, lyric sheets, a business card, a post card to his wife and a booking card from the 1940s. These are also the cleanest recordings of Guthrie’s work yet to date. His unrivaled folk, full of emotional nuance impresses you upon first listen to My Dusty Road and these songs timelessly revel in the wayward traveler’s experience of America. No wonder Guthrie was Bob Dylan’s signature musical influence. This collection is for those who love Bob Dylan and want to trace the origins of his genius to Guthrie’s masterly crafted and treasured music, as well as anyone interested in American roots music and popular song.
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The buzz on Barack Obama is that he’s a great speaker. Well, you haven’t listened to Winston Churchill lately, have you? You can compare these two notables while pondering the significance of their historical era, as well as other politicians, activists, newscasters, sportscasters, celebrities and more from this 5-CD set (so that’s 500 greatest, total) from the reputable Shout! Factory, whose catalogs includes Grammy®-nominated box sets. I’m listening to a radio announcement that the Russians are in Berlin, right now (100 Greatest News Stories), and it feels right now. These audible excerpts, the highlights of stories from modern history, are chilling, inspiring, funny and tragic. They’re historical earworms that wriggle right into your head and settle in your heart. This is stuff you never forget. Your history buff, your pop culture collector, the teacher in your family, the audio sampler (who will appreciate the alphabetical, rather than chronological organization) will want this, too.
Impressively comprehensive and stunning in scope, The Soul of Rock and Roll is also a beautifully packaged boxed set. Its presentation befits the image, the voice, the legend of Roy Orbison. The limited edition comes in a gorgeous white linen-covered casing holding a collectible reproduction of the 1953 Wildcats of Wink High School yearbook, and a 95-page booklet filled with an extensive biography, clippings, a discography and hundreds of striking photos. The astounding four disc collection spans Orbison’s more than 30-year career with 107 tracks of classics, covers, ‘50s demos and live performances, 12 of which are previously unreleased. Each and every one of these 107 tracks is special, and the collection as a whole is phenomenal. You’d be hard-pressed to find any box set, by any artist, that is as thoroughly comprehensive and as lovingly presented as this one is. So, for that, it is remarkable. But Roy Orbison doesn’t really need all of those extras to make this box set unique. His music and his voice, his legend and his legacy, the long shadow he casts over every rock and roll singer to step into a spotlight, are a testament to the man who truly was the Soul of Rock and Roll.
If Motown was the granddaddy of modern Black music, and Stax was its scruffy, shady-yet-magnetic uncle, Philly Soul was the prim-and-proper little sister with a mean streak beneath the makeup. If universality is a sign of great pop, Philadelphia International produced some of the best. Ever. That music is at the center of the long-overdue Love Train: The Sound of Philadelphia. A four-disc, 71-track set, it features no fewer that 26 #1 R&B hits and 27 Top Ten pop hits. Though it spans from Gamble, Huff, and Bell’s early careers to Philadelphia International’s distribution deal with EMI in 1984, its main focus is on the halcyon years 1971-1976. And the collection, overseen by Gamble and Huff themselves, does it right. Everything’s chronological, from start to finish. No incongruous, “themed” discs. No superfluous demos and live tracks. Just the hits, and there were plenty of them. Philadelphia International’s two premier acts, the O’Jays and Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, are as well-represented as one might expect, with over a quarter of the 71 tracks. With few exceptions, Love Train is a de facto greatest hits for both. If you don’t already have the O’Jays and Blue Notes stuff, you’re already behind the ball. But here’s your chance to make things right, because, aside from the obvious classics, the best thing about Love Train is all the relatively underappreciated, sometimes hidden, gems.
The Unreleased Recordings is a bit of a godsend. Like reading Virginia Woolf’s diaries or seeing the metamorphosis of Jackson Pollock through exhibit, this collection serves to help complete the picture of a human being we can never know too much about. The songs come from radio station WSM in Nashville, Tennessee. In 1951, Hank Williams stopped by every so often to record 15-minute segments that were then played early in the morning. He sang some of his own songs and covered many of his personal favorites. His backing bands and singers were always top-notch. Best of all, the quality is exceptional. WSM clearly knew to take care of these acetates and the transfer to digital could not be better. Taken together, these factors add up to a perfect treasure. This is a collection for the obsessive, the skeptic, and even the novice, who will feel grateful rather than overwhelmed that there are a full three discs worth of material to plunder.
// Notes from the Road
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