Bob Luman

At Town Hall Party

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Unlike Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, Eddie Cochran, and Gene Vincent -- all of whom are also featured in Town Hall Party kinescopes issued by Bear Family -- Bob Luman is more of a cult figure best known to rockabilly enthusiasts. The Town Hall Party shows preserved here date from Luman's time on Capitol Records, and after he'd lost his backing band -- including James Burton -- to Ricky Nelson. On the other hand, he's back up here by the likes of Merle Travis, Joe Maphis, Bob Gibson (who throws a variant on Danny Cedrone's lead guitar part from "Rock Around the Clock" onto "Ready Teddy"), and Vincent-alumnus Johnny Meeks, which is hardly a bad trade-off. Luman comes off as highly animated, to the point where his rhythm playing is almost irrelevant (he sheds the instrument midway through most of the numbers here where he plays one), leaving to Jimmy Pruett's pounding ivories, Pee Wee Adams' drums, and Skeets McDonald's bass to hold the beat together. Whether he's singing by himself or with a quartet of country choristers surrounding him, his songs are all more than a bit on the wild side. Between the musical chores being in solid hands and the singer's animated figure, Luman was ready-made for television -- his voice is good enough to handle covers of "I Walk the Line" or ballads like "Precious," though he's better on numbers like "Itchy Twitchy Feeling," "Stagger Lee," or Judy West's "Svengali," with its compelling Bo Diddley beat. There is some repetition, which is understandable, as the contents of this disc are drawn from a year's worth of telecasts in which Luman usually did no more than three songs at a time, some of them popular favorites. There aren't as many defects in the image on this disc as there are on the Cash volume in the same series -- there are mild deficiencies throughout, as the kinescopes (film shot off of a TV screen carrying a live performance) were substandard to begin with, but no glaring glitches, and the sound has held up better than the picture. The disc takes a bit of time getting past multilingual anti-piracy warnings and the historical account of Town Hall Party's origins, but is otherwise easy to use, with a chapter number assigned to each song; there's also a handy booklet enclosed that gives an overview of Luman's career as well as his involvement with the program.

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