Although seldom brought to light in the myriad books recounting rock & roll's early history, there was quite the burgeoning teen band scene in the late 1950s emanating from the state of Minnesota. And many of those combos made records, more often than not cutting a lone single for dime-sized labels or getting a few hundred copies pressed on their own vanity imprint. Minnesota Rock-A-Billy Rock brings together 14 tracks from various D.I.Y. concerns such as these for a delightful collection that more than delivers on its promise. Loaded with rare records by obscure artists on labels whose distribution was no wider than the dance hall those bands played in, this documents an interesting musical scene with its own flavor that seldom gets documented. The styles are varied here, ranging from Don & Jer with the Screamers' "I Dig," with its genius little tag line at the end of each verse and extra-crispy lead guitar fills, to the crude and almost tuneless Jack & the Knights' "Rock the Blues Away" (with nobody anywhere near a mutually agreed-upon tuning) to Tommy Lee & the Orbits' "Queen Bee," a much-sought-after collector's item by rockabilly collectors. Even rarer is a two-sided slab of basement recording in Jim Thaxter & the Travelers' call-and-response rocker "Sally Jo" and the torrid guitar instrumental "Cyclone." Thaxter's group featured three of the four members who would later go on to fame as the Trashmen. Both sides of Hal Fritz & the Playboys' lone Soma single ("Three Bad Habits" and "Goin' Out on You") are also aboard, sounding like a loose version of Bill Haley & the Comets. Other notable rockin' moments come courtesy of Ron Thompson & the Broughams's Duane Eddy-style instrumental "Switchblade," and Ronnie Ray & the Playboys' two-sided winner "Mean Mama Blues" and "Vulture," the latter an instrumental with a unique structure to it and some great guitar work to recommend it. For a compilation with no big names to speak of, this one gets very high marks for content. This also makes a fine companion addendum to Norton's two-volume Bloodshot! series documenting other Minnesota rock & roll bands.
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