It's tempting to say that Gus Backus could've been another Ricky Nelson, or another Jack Scott -- except that he really was, in Germany. This 30-song overview of Backus' English-language output from the late '50s through the end of 1967 is a decidedly mixed bag of sounds, many of them extremely pleasing, and a lot of them surprising as well. Backus' biggest hits in Germany were in German, but his English-language songs are just fine, as well as fully competitive with those of any top rock & roller (this side of Elvis, anyway) from 1958 on. A lot of the material here is closer to pop than rock & roll, and some of the ballads, including "Linda," are on the syrupy side, but it's not hard to understand how he could parlay his singing (and national origin) into something akin to superstardom in Germany. "Just Say Goodbye," from 1964, is a solid, hard-rocking dance number complete with hard lead guitar and organ, a pretty raw harmonica solo, and an unpretentious girl chorus backing a bold, macho lead vocal performance by Backus. "Turn Around," from the same year, could pass for a Merseybeat-style number -- and those are just two of the revelatory discoveries with which this collection is encrusted. "I'm Comin' Home," from a 1967 London session (but unreleased until 1995), is a bit of a throwback to the mid-60s British beat sound, but it still could've held its own against any English pop/rock single of the period; one suspects that this is roughly what producer Bert Kaempfert was looking for from Tony Sheridan and the Beatles during their 1961 Hamburg sessions. Backus might even have evolved into Germany's Tom Jones -- "Lost and Found," from the same London session, is more than a little reminiscent of "I (Who Have Nothing." But "Guess You'll Have to Do Without," also from the same session (and written by Backus), shows him trying to move into Roy Orbison territory in the sheer drama of his performance, while "Need You All the Time" recalls Crispian St. Peters' "The Pied Piper." "Autumn Breeze" finds Backus working in a psychedelic-pop idiom, with an original song that might've done very nicely for Spanky & Our Gang. The sound is first-rate throughout this CD (even the two early Carlton Records sides are deep and rich in texture), while the annotation, although a little sketchy, is reasonably thorough in detailing Backus' career.
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