Scott Walker

Humble Beginnings: The Scott Engel Sessions

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Perhaps the greatest proof that the song "Jesse" -- on Scott Walker's 2006 opus to beautiful weirdness, empty space, and percussion nightmares The Drift -- is anchored in his fascination with Elvis is "The Livin' End"'s placement as the opening track on Humble Beginnings, a rockabilly tune disguised as an R&B number recorded in 1958, when Scott Engle was 15. The same confusion and crackling tense energy Presley revealed on his early sides, the very thing that made them so vital, is here, though without the mentor's masked self-assuredness and confused yet raw sexuality. What's really weird is that this track was written by Henry Mancini with Rod McKuen! The flip, "Good for Nothin'" was written by Randy Sparks. These two cuts are the hardest-rocking Engle ever got, and they feel completely unhinged. His ferocious faux-Southern vocal style may have resembled Ronnie Dawson, but it was Presley rockabilly worship pure and simple (the smashing pompadour on the cover is evidence enough). The remainder of these 18 sides were recorded for the fledgling Orbit label in Los Angeles, shortly after Engel moved there form Ohio with his mother. There is another rocker, though not quite as intense as the former two or the original -- Johnny Burnette's "Comin' Home" -- but it tries hard anyway, The cheesy background vocals destroy the mix. The foreshadowing of Engle's excess as a balladeer can be heard on Burnette's "I Don't Wanna Know," there is a tremendous expression against the guitars and the skittering brushed snare. Production schlock is everywhere present on McKuen's "Sing Boy Sing," but though much higher -- we're talking reedy tenor here -- the voice is already there (though he's off-key on the refrains). Right. The rest is all white-boy teen ballads and really bad attempts at faux doo wop. Ultimately, very few people will actually be interested in these sides, but for any serious music nut or fanatic Walker fan, this package with its copious liners by Bill Dahl will be irresistible.

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