Various Artists

The Lin & Kliff Story

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This is a dazzlingly great and maddeningly confusing four-CD set -- maybe the best box of its kind that Bear Family has ever issued -- and also one hot collection of country-based rock & roll, laced with some cool Western swing and dance numbers, plus some well-played ballads. All of the 120+ songs from the Lin Records vaults (nearly half previously unissued) were cut in Texas and Oklahoma, featuring some extraordinary local and regional talent that might otherwise never have been recorded. The contents are uniformly good, which is extraordinary in itself for an indie label that most listeners outside of Texas and Oklahama scarcely remember -- what makes it maddening, but also very listenable, is that the songs have not been arranged in chronological order. Track order jumps across years, but the mix of sounds makes this one of the most listenable of all Bear Family boxes; indeed, it's like tuning in on an incredible country-rock retrospective on radio. The one concession to chronology is on disc one, which opens with the very first record ever cut for Lin Records, Wayne Jetton's "A Crazy Mind Plus a Foolish Heart." Jetton wasn't even out of high school when he wrote and cut this great, lost should-have-been-a-hit in December 1953. Disc one gets better from there, with Western swing, straight country, and proto-rock & roll. Most of this material was released in 1954, showing just how far out in front of a lot of other country labels Lin Records was in reaching out to teen audiences -- these sides all rock to some degree, and some pretty hard at that. There are a couple of sentimental country ballads in the midst of this, but a considerable amount of what's here is a branch of regional rock & roll evolving in the studio, country music changing into something harder and more aggressive. Disc two is all rock & roll, all the way, with some R&B influences as well. The disc kicks off in high gear, and the pace never really slows; there are also one or two above-average novelty rockers. Disc three is even better, made up mostly of some of the hottest White country-blues-based rock, solid dance tunes, and exquisitely sung Elvis-style ballads this side of Sun Records. Even the more romantic numbers that fill out the side don't break the spell -- this disc would have made a magnificent hour of rock & roll radio. Disc four is somewhat more uneven, running the gamut from elegant, passionate pop to novelty tracks, plus lots of romantic pop-rock from Ken Copeland, including "Pledge of Love," the biggest single that Lin ever had. The book is utterly engrossing, presenting a vivid picture of what running a small label was like the in years that Lin Records started, as well as biographical information on all of the label's artists. It's also profusely illustrated.

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