New box set sheds light on Roy Orbison
The Soul of Rock and Roll
(Monument/Orbison Records/Legacy Recordings)
ESSENTIAL "In Dreams"
No singer won more acclaim than Roy Orbison. Bruce Springsteen called his voice "unearthly." Bono called it "spirit-like." Tom Waits described it as "part opera, part mariachi, part lonesome yodel, and part Irish tenor via Texas." All so true, as one rediscovers in this splendid four-CD box set that includes 107 songs, from his rockabilly-etched "Ooby Dooby" in 1956 to a live version of the eerie "It's Over" from his last show in Akron, Ohio, in 1988, only days after he played Boston.
Orbison died from a heart attack at age 52, but his legacy is captured brilliantly in this definitive set compiled by his son, Roy Jr. It features an 80-page booklet with multiple liner notes, artist tributes, and family photos and reminiscences that make his loss all the more poignant. It's a must-have for lovers of emotional, high-drama ballads and has 12 previously unreleased tracks. Many are shockingly good demos from the '50s that would wipe out most of his contemporaries' best work.
Songs come from Orbison's early bands the Teen Kings and Wink Westerners, then from studio sessions for Sun Records in Memphis and Monument Records in Nashville, where he cut his hits "Only the Lonely," "Running Scared" (adapted from a bolero rhythm), and "Oh, Pretty Woman."
Later tracks from the Traveling Wilburys (starring Orbison, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Tom Petty, and Jeff Lynne) are here as well. But what makes the set so strong are oddities like a 10-minute solo medley of Elvis Presley tunes recorded in Galveston, Texas. Clearly, Orbison could do it all. [Steve Morse]