Conway Twitty

Rocks at the Castaway

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Bear Family's 2015 release Rocks at the Castaway: Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio 3rd-9th August 1964 captures Conway Twitty at a crossroads. Three years removed from his last charting single -- and four years removed from his last Top 40 appearance -- and two years away from his makeover as a country crooner, he instead was grinding out a living playing clubs and bars like the Castaway, in a resort town tucked away on Lake Erie. For some reason, several nights of his August 1964 stint were recorded and while they were issued by fly-by-night operations during the peak of his stardom in the late '70s, Bear Family's double-disc set cleans up the audio considerably, adds context via liner notes, and makes no attempt to pass this off as anything other than a historical recording. No matter the care, the audio remains a little rough but it's certainly listenable and, better still, the performances are stronger than expected. Twitty tips his hat to his country future by singing "Funny How Time Slips Away," "Your Cheatin' Heart," "Born to Lose," and Roger Miller's "Dang Me," but the novelty of the latter fits easily into all the rock & roll that's in his set. At times, Twitty and his band really tear it up -- "You Can't Judge a Book by the Cover" cooks, as does "Got My Mojo Working," both sharing the exact same arrangement and both aided by Conway's game Elvis homage -- but throughout it all the singer exudes a charisma that remains palpable even on rickety audio tapes. There's no question that Conway realized this wasn't a path to stardom -- why else did he go all-in on country a few months later? -- but the showman inside him refused to go through the motions and the result is this delightful curiosity: a snapshot of a would-be star when he was just a working man.

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