Link Wray

King of the Wild Guitar

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While this 25-track compilation does stretch over 40 years of Link Wray's career, and it does include some of his best and most famous recordings, it's not exactly a best-of. Instead, it combines 11 tracks cut between the late '50s and mid-'60s with 14 that came out on relatively obscure Ace Records albums between 1989 and 2000. Compilations that skip a quarter-century or so in an artist's discographies are never that smooth, and just because this is much better than most such compilations still doesn't mean it was a great idea. Here's the cold truth: the 1958-1965 cuts tower over the rest of the CD, as they're not just better than his later recordings, but among the very, very best (and certainly wickedest) instrumental guitar rock ever made. "Rumble," "Fat Back," "Run Chicken Run," "Jack the Ripper," "I'm Branded" -- all are core Wray classics, making the first half or so of the disc a great listen, even if does also miss some of his best work. But when you get to the more modern stuff, you can instantly tell it's not as cutting-edge (and edged with a hard rock-influenced approach), even if -- to give him his due -- these are both roughly consistent with his early sound and far, far better than most efforts by '50s rockers hovering around retirement age. Wray's flashy distorted guitar work is still good and occasionally amazing, but he was often recycling his old ideas and riffs at this point, and his backup rhythm sections simply weren't as sympathetic (and oddly thrilling) as the ones heard on his more primitive early recordings. If this is the first Link Wray compilation you hear, you can still tell that this is a major artist at work. The first Link Wray compilation you should pick up, however, is one that focuses on his 1950s and 1960s work exclusively, of which there are several.