Bobby Vee

Down the Line

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Anyone who thinks that Bobby Vee's credentials as a rock & roller were a little shaky back when ought to check out this 1999-vintage album, a latter-day tribute to Buddy Holly that's about the best this reviewer has ever heard. Vee's career started in Holly's shadow, of course, so it's no surprise that he did this album, but that he does it this well 40 years on is astonishing. He not only sings the stuff with a power and sensitivity that he couldn't have achieved back in 1959/1960 (plays guitar as well), but has assembled a trio that isn't bad when it comes to emulating and modernizing (without destroying) the sound of the Crickets or Holly's post-Crickets work -- and there's a moment or two when they could pass for the Stray Cats; and even more impressively, Vee co-produced this record. The songs, ranging from early Holly artifacts like "Midnight Shift" to late-career pieces like "It Doesn't Matter Anymore," show Vee getting the stylistic nuances just right even as he adds his own touches -- perhaps the most profound moment here is "Tell Me How," where you get the sense that this is, indeed, the way Holly might well have done this song had he lived to see his sixth decade. It might be Vee's best single moment as a recording artist, and certainly is among the finest things he's ever done, just as the whole album is an unexpectedly fine achievement, and full of surprises as well. "It Doesn't Matter Anymore" gently acknowledges the original's string accompaniment while adding some electric embellishments that put it more firmly in a rock & roll mode (especially on the break) and mark a truly inventive yet respectful treatment of that final Holly single; and from there you get into a country-pop-tinged rendering of "I'm Gonna Love You Too" that captures the song's understated (and oft-overlooked) lyricism amid some unexpectedly bold and inventive pop flourishes; and he follows this up with a straight rockabilly rendition of "Blue Days, Black Nights."

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