Bobby Helms is best known for his Christmas perennial "Jingle Bell Rock," along with a pair of big country-pop crossover singles in 1957, "Fraulein" and "My Special Angel." After those three classic singles in the late '50s, Helms disappeared from the charts, but he kept recording steadily into the early '70s. While his early hitmaking years have been documented well on Bear Family's double-disc set Fraulein: The Classic Years -- not only the only CD-era compilation of his recordings, but the only compilation he's had since 1963, which gives a sense how neglected he's been by reissue labels -- there has been little attention to the sides he cut for Little Darlin' Records between 1967 and 1970. Koch finally remedies that situation with the long overdue 2004 release The Little Darlin' Sound of Bobby Helms. At 15 tracks, this is far from a complete overview of his work for the label -- it contains about half of the 12 songs from the 1968 album All New Just for You and there are singles mentioned in the brief uncredited liner notes that do not appear on the collection (the liner notes would also have benefited from the inclusion of songwriting credits) -- and there's a bit too much emphasis on covers of both his old standards and contemporary hits from the late '60s, but given both the rarity and consistency of this material, it's hard to complain too much (some may also complain about the muted fidelity of the disc, but since Koch was likely working from flawed source materials, it's unfair to blame them for this). These sides are pure, straightforward country from the late '60s, the kind of singles you'd hear at a truck stop or on the jukebox in a pool hall or neighborhood bar. There are strings, echoed pianos, and leisurely acoustic guitars on the ballads, the midtempo honky tonk songs skip along and are dressed with steel guitars, and by the time he recorded "Mary Goes Round" in 1970, he was working in the progressive country style of Tom T. Hall, Waylon Jennings, and Bobby Bare. Helms had a strong and versatile voice, sounding convincing in all these settings, and even if these aren't lost classics, for hardcore country collectors it doesn't matter much, since it's excellent genre material, particularly the lesser-known tunes and original Helms songs like "I'm Gonna Love the Devil Out of You," "He Thought He'd Die Laughing," "I Know One," "Apt. No. 9," and, especially, the last two cuts, "Mary Goes Round" and "Look What You've Done to My World." This is first-rate straight-ahead country, and it's great to have it back in print again. With any luck, another volume of Helms' Little Darlin' recordings will follow this excellent disc.
The Little Darlin' Sound of Bobby Helms Review
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine