Various Artists

Great Rock & Roll Instrumentals: Just About as Good As It Gets

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The subtitle "The Original Rock 'n' Roll Recordings 1950-1960" further clarifies the contents of this double-CD compilation tightly packed with 63 predominantly instrumental tunes from the early days of rock & roll. Most of the usual suspects are here, such as "Tequila," "Rebel Rouser," "Rumble," and "Honky Tonk," but it's the rest of this set that is such a revelation. Obscure choices from legends such as Chuck Berry, Bill Haley & the Comets, and Fats Domino share space with less familiar names such as Kid King's Combo, Lawson Haggart Rockin' Band, Dave Appell & the Applejacks, and Merrill Moore, best known only by rabid fans of the genre. The strict chronological time frame precludes any surf, which generally came to prominence after 1960, so much of this stays in the blues, country, and R&B veins. There are a few obvious omissions such as Santo & Johnny's classic "Sleep Walk" but that doesn't detract from the wealth of rare and seldom-anthologized songs that make this such an enjoyable spin for enthusiasts of the time period. Only two tracks break the three-minute mark; these nuggets, typically guitar or sax based, get in, swing for a few minutes, and end quickly, never extending into the jams that would seem natural to the idiom. Six pages of detailed, tiny-type liner notes by compiler Dave Travis provide fascinating background information on even the most under-the-radar selections and artists, although there are no specific personnel listed. The tracks aren't arranged in chronological order, or seemingly any order at all, and after nearly two-and-a-half hours all the honking saxes, twangy guitars, and walking pianos seem to run together. But this remains a minor goldmine of frisky instrumentals from these early years of rock & roll when the music was still heavily influenced by jump blues and country, and just starting to evolve into its singular style and form.

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