Link Wray

Guitar Preacher: The Polydor Years

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Wray's image as leather-clad, fuzz-drenched cowpunk is so indelibly etched into the minds of most fans that it's been convenient to overlook the fact that in the early '70s, he eschewed grungy instrumentals for laid-back, homespun roots rock. He wrote lyrics and sang on these albums as well, some of which were recorded in a three-track studio built in a converted chicken coop on his family farm. Reflecting the pastoral, rural influence of the Band and other groups of the day, Link also largely abandoned his electric guitars for acoustic ones on some of the albums, though he returned to harder-rocking electric sounds by the middle of the 1970s. This double-CD box set collects 37 songs from five albums spanning 1971 to 1974. One of these LPs only surfaced in England (Beans and Fatback), and another was an odd effort by one Mordicai Jones on which Link played most of the instruments and wrote most of the material. The anthology rightfully emphasizes his self-titled 1971 comeback album, the best of these recordings, which has an enigmatic backwoods ambience and spiritual lyrics, and contains a couple tunes later covered by the Nevilles ("Fire and Brimstone" and "Fallin' Rain"). The later albums, some of which featured high-profile guests like Jerry Garcia and Tower of Power, had a more generic early-'70s AOR rock feel; not so on the Mordicai Jones tracks, though, on which rustic arrangements back Jones' vocals, which sound like a more subdued Robert Plant. As a whole, the work assembled here isn't nearly as important as Wray's instrumental recordings from the '50s and '60s -- and Wray's wracked, tense vocals are something of an acquired taste -- but it's rather intriguing stuff with little relationship to the rest of his catalog.

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