Ask any rockabilly cat and they'll tell you that Warren Smith was one of the greats. He's somebody the hardcore love, not just because he produced the frenzied "Ubangi Stomp" and not just because he cut the definitive version of "Rock & Roll Ruby," but also because he was a passionate, powerful country singer, wrenching enough emotion out of the traditional "Black Jack David" to make it seem like his own. He also had great mid-tempo sides like "So Long, I'm Gone," written by Roy Orbison and Sam Phillips, and "Red Cadillac and Black Moustache." As great as these songs are -- and, decades later, they retain their vitality, thanks to both Smith's performance and the spare, vibrant sound of Sun Studios -- they were not big hits, with only "So Long, I'm Gone" scraping the bottom reaches of the Top 100; but they are among the finest rockabilly and country of the late '50s, as Bear Family's stellar The Classic Recordings: 1956-1959 proves. This single-disc, 31-track collection contains everything Warren Smith cut at the studio, including several alternate takes and unreleased material. Instead of cluttering the disc, these rarities show Smith's depth and range, as he sounds equally comfortable with hardcore country as he does with down and dirty rockabilly. The remarkable thing about the disc is that the songs and performances are all of consistently high quality. Unlike many of his rockabilly peers, either at Sun or elsewhere, Smith cut almost no dross, and his sides for Sun rank among the finest at the studio, holding its own against the work of Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis, which is high praise indeed. Needless to say, The Classic Recordings: 1956-1959 belongs in the library of any serious fan of '50s country, rockabilly, or rock & roll.
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