The Sparkletones

Complete Recordings 1957-59

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This German-made CD is essential listening, especially given the fact that Universal, which controls the rights to the Sparkletones' recordings, has never issued anything on them on CD. Opening with "Black Slacks," the sound fairly ripples throughout, and such was the nature of the group's work, that they seem never to have recorded a less-than-bracing side, whether it was for the top or bottom of a single (albums weren't in their thinking). Joe Bennett's distinctive Fender guitar is featured heavily on just about all of the breaks, and the multi-layered vocal pyrotechnics overseen by producer Don Costa help make the group's ABC-Paramount sides some of the most fascinating rockabilly tracks that you're ever going to hear -- and those ABC releases, usually built around phrases and attributes associated with teenagers, have a special resonance similar to the early sides of Bill Haley & His Comets (who used a similar approach to repertory). The group's slightly later Paris Records output is also here, which is somewhat tamer but no less enjoyable -- "Are You from Dixie" and "Bayou Rock" abandoned the songwriting formula that they had been using, but they're fascinating cultural artifacts in their own right. The more harmony/pop-oriented "Boys Do Cry" (which, like several other releases here, is featured in an outtake version as well) and "Softly" show off the group in a softer vein late in their history, the former number recalling Dion & the Belmonts in very favorable terms. The CD ends with the final single to emerge from the Sparkletones' orbit, the Elvis Presley tribute record "The King Is Coming Back," credited to Billy & Eddie but long assumed to be the group's swan song -- it puts them back in the harder rockabilly mode of their ABC work. The sound is excellent throughout and the annotation is reasonably informative, and the whole package comes off as the kind of work that Universal should have done long ago on behalf of this group.