Link Wray

3-Track Shack

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While most anyone who worships at the altar of rock guitar knows Link Wray as the gutbucket minimalist who gave birth to the definitive six-string snarl on such primal 1950s singles as "Rumble," "Rawhide," and "Ace of Spades," that's not all the man was capable of, and folks expecting the hard-edged roar of his best-known work may be a bit taken aback by this release. Wray's Three Track Shack is a two-CD set which reissues three albums Link Wray cut between 1971 and 1973, recorded in a primitive home studio on his Maryland farm -- Link Wray, Beans & Fatback, and Mordecai Jones (the latter, in essence, a Link Wray album though pianist Bobby Howard, aka Mordicai Jones, took top billing). The music on 1971's Link Wray bears little resemblance to Wray's classic work, sounding more like a funky country blues set than anything else, with Wray playing as much acoustic guitar as electric, and pianos and mandolins adding a warm and down-home mood to the songs. If the approach is different, and Wray's rough but emphatic vocals establish this as a different animal from his early instrumental hits, there's an unapologetically raw and unpolished energy that sets this apart from the standard issue roots-music work of the day, and there's no questioning the passion and heart in these tunes, which often recall a childhood growing up poor and Native-American in the deep South. Beans & Fatback, which was issued by Virgin in 1973, is a noticeably looser and harder-rocking set than Link Wray, and "I'm So Glad, I'm So Proud" offers a solid dose of Wray's patented gnarly guitar, but most of the album still sounds rootsier and less hard-edged than Link's larger body of work, and offers a more personal insight on such songs as "Shawnee Tribe" and "Hobo Man." And finally, Mordecai Jones was an attempt on Wray's part to crash the charts by having his piano man, Bobby Howard, take the lead vocals under an assumed name; Howard's voice is more conventionally appealing than Link's (the fact Howard never lost a lung to tuberculosis doubtless helped), and there's a loose and engaging blues mood to the album that suggests a late-night jam caught on tape, with Link contributing some great slide guitar on the session (though one can't help but wish he could have hit his guitar a bit harder). Wray's Three Track Shack is a solid and comprehensive overview of an often overlooked period in Link Wray's life as a recording artist, and while newbies and casual observers may be a bit puzzled by its low-key tone, completists will find it fascinating (and be glad to pick up three hard-to-find LP's in one package).

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