Various Artists

It Came from Memphis [Upstart]

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Compilations can by their nature be very diverse affairs. You'd have to search for quite some time, though, to find one that squeezes as much unnerving variety into 19 cuts as this one does. Devoted to odds'n'sods of Memphis popular music from the 1950s to the '90s, this was compiled by Robert Gordon as a companion CD to his book of the same title. Memphis has a rich rock, soul, and blues tradition, and Gordon does not plumb for the obvious Sun Records, Stax, and B.B. King cuts. This is truly obscure stuff, taken from unreleased tapes and the kinds of things you'll only find at garage sales, and defying easy capsule-review summary. Atonal one-string blues from Moses Williams; over the top '60s garage rock featuring noted producer and session musician Jim Dickinson; 1977 noise rock in the tradition of Beefheart and Pere Ubu (from the inimitable Drive Inn Danny with the Killers from Space); a ridiculous but charming soul novelty from Cliff Jackson; eccentric alternative rock from Lorette Velvette; Booker T.-like instrumental soul from the Martinis; a wacko cover of the Velvet Underground's "Story of My Life" by Lesa Aldridge (with Alex Chilton on guitar); Othar Turner's Rising Star Fife and Drum Band; electronic symphonic experimentation by William Eggleston; bursts of '50s Memphis radio by Dewey Phillips. And that's only about a half of it. Much of it's very interesting, and much of it's very wacky, but it's probably too erratic and wide-ranging to connect with listeners who don't possess extremely eclectic tastes. The mad variety also prohibits an even-keeled listening experience, but that's what programmable CD players are for.

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