Fuel 2000's 2003 release Absolutely the Best, Vol. 1 contains 18 tracks Mickey Gilley cut in the '60s for Paula Records, including the entirity of his 1967 album, Down the Line, where he pretty much split the difference between country and rock & roll. It also contains several singles he cut with Jack Clement after that album, where he settled on a barroom-ready, hardcore country style, as well as a version of Charlie Rich's "Mohair Sam," complete with compressed fuzz tones, wah-wah guitars, and a heavy four-four beat that suggest it was recorded much later than the rest of the music on this collection. To figure out which track came from where, you'd need to read Bill Dahl's excellent liner notes very closely; his work here, as a writer and compiler, is very good, but a track-by-track information breakdown is sorely needed. That said, Absolutely the Best, Vol. 1 is a welcome addition to Gilley's catalog, since there not only isn't much out on the market, but because the music here is very, very good. While the Down the Line does find him in full-on Jerry Lee Lewis mode, even covering "Down the Line," "I'll Make It Up to You," and "Breathless," but he does also dabble in country and even if the performances are occasionally derivitive, they're well-done and quite enjoyable. The real heart of the collection is at the end with the Clement-produced singles. This is where Gilley finds the sound that would lead him to the top of the country charts in 1974, and the songs -- "A World of My Own," "Love in the Want Ads," "She's Still Got a Hold on You," and his first national hit, "Now I Can Live Again" -- are expert honky tonk and barroom ballads that perhaps should have been bigger hits but stand as very fine unheralded country from the late '60s. So, there's more than enough high-quality material here to make Absolutely the Best, Vol. 1 a necessary addition to any Gilley collection, but it's good enough to make it of interest to any fan of good, solid pure country and no-nonsense '50s-styled rock & roll.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine