Bear Family's extensive Rocks series generally serves the purpose of concentrating a lot of a specific rocker's most energetic performances onto one CD, or isolating the most rock-oriented sides of an artist most known for a different style of music (such as Marty Robbins). The rationale behind the 30 sides picked for this Louis Prima volume isn't as clear. As Billy Vera even admits near the end of his fine liner notes, "I'm not trying to say that Louis, [his singer] Keely [Smith], and [his saxophonist] Sam [Butera] had any appeal for 50s teens. They did not, but what they were playing was, in every other sense, rock'n'roll, or at least its prototype." True, the material was all cut at the height of the early rock & roll explosion between 1956 and 1958, and drew from some of the same influences that early rock did (jump blues and swing jazz being the most prevalent). But it's not rock & roll, or even too rock-influenced, with a few exceptions, like the Smith-penned "Rock-A-Doodle-Doo." That doesn't mean it isn't plenty boisterous, though it's a lot more like hearing the hottest lounge band in town than real rockers, especially when Butera lets loose with his down'n'dirtiest sax riffs (as he does on "Hey Boy, Hey Girl"). Of course a great deal of the music recorded by Prima shared these characteristics, not just these 30 tracks, and this hardly showcases all of the things he did that rocked in spirit if not in form. If album titles and genre classifications aren't the kind of things that vex you, enjoy the nearly 82 minutes (yes, it does fit more than 81 minutes onto one disc) of Prima mixing swing jazz, sentimental Italian schmaltz, jump blues, and nightclub comedy into his idiosyncratic and immediately identifiable sound, including such highlights of his repertoire as "Jump, Jive an' Wail," "Oh, Marie," "Just a Gigolo/I Ain't Got Nobody," and "I'll Be Glad When You're Dead You Rascal You." It isn't necessarily a best-of or even the best of his more raucous material, but it's certainly the longest such compilation anywhere in those ballparks, with good annotation.
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