Roy Orbison: The Soul of Rock and Roll (Monument/Orbison Records/Legacy)

cd_orbison.jpgListening to the discs in order gives you a great sense of how his voice, and songwriting, changed over the decades.







Roy Orbison had one of the most distinctive voices in American music: effortlessly powerful over four octaves, and equally at home singing rockabilly ("Ooby Dooby," "Rockhouse") or the soul-wrenching hits ("Crying," "Only the Lonely") which brought him his greatest fame. As Mary Chapin Carpenter put it, Orbison "had a voice from on high — literally, emotionally, spiritually." Or as Bob Dylan put it, "with Roy, you didn’t know if you were listening to mariachi or opera…[his voice] made you want to drive your car over a cliff." Presumably out of professional jealousy, since vocal quality was never Dylan’s strong point.

There are many reasons to decry the consolidation of the music industry, but it does have one advantage: facilitating the release of a collection such as the four-CD set Roy Orbison: The Soul of Rock and Roll, which includes tracks from all five labels Orbison recorded for. It also includes a number of unreleased tracks and demos, duets with luminaries such as k.d. lang and Emmy Lou Harris, and multiple recordings of major hits such "Pretty Woman." The result is a collection which truly represents the entire span of Orbison’s career, from his initial recording in the 1950s through the final tracks laid down in the late 1980s.

The material in Roy Orbison: The Soul of Rock and Roll is basically arranged chronologically, so listening to the discs in order gives you a great sense of how his voice, and songwriting, changed over the decades. Disc 1 begins with Orbison’s earliest recording, "Ooby Dooby" (exhibit A for the fact that if a song has a really good beat, lyrics may be beside the point) with the Teen Kings, recorded in 1956. It also includes several cuts recorded with Richard Petty in Clovis, New Mexico, and with Sam Phillips at Sun Records, including his first hit, a different recording of "Ooby Dooby" which went to #59 on the pop charts.

Disc 2 contains most of Orbison’s Monument hits from the early 1960s, including "Only the Lovely," "Blue Bayou," "Crying," and "In Dreams," along with a selection of B-sides from the same period. Disc 3 includes more Monument hits, including "Oh, Pretty Woman" (featuring the trademark Orbison gargle) and "Mean Woman Blues," along with singles recorded for MGM. It also includes several tracks recorded for the movies, including "So Young" from Zabriskie Point and "That Lovin’ Feeling Again" (with Emmy Lou Harris) from Roadie, and "Pistolero" and "The Fastest Guitar Alive" from the only feature film starring Orbison, The Fastest Guitar Alive (and about the film itself, the less said, the better).

Disc 4 includes a selection of recordings from the 1980s, when Orbison enjoyed a career renaissance. Outstanding tracks on this disk include "Crying" (with k.d. lang) and "Oh Pretty Woman" (with Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello), both from the television special "A Black and White Night Live" (the title pays tribute to Orbison’s customarily monochromatic stage appearance), the "In Dreams" recording featured in the film Blue Velvet and "Not Alone Any More" (with the Traveling Wilburys, a little group which included George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty and Bob Dylan as well as Orbison).

Not every track on Roy Orbison: The Soul of Rock and Roll is a hit, but they weren’t meant to be. What you get with this collection is a sense of Orbison’s range as a singer and songwriter, as well as the course of his career over four decades (all the more amazing when you consider his premature death at age 52, from a heart attack). It’s the finest tribute a professional musician could ask for. A | Sarah Boslaugh

RIYL: Absolute Torch and Twang; Black & White Night; The Traveling Wilburys

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