Billy Lee Riley left Sun Records in 1959, opting to take a stab at starting his own label, Rita, with guitarist Roland James instead of signing on for another round of frustration working for the man. Rita folded quickly but, undaunted, Riley launched another label, this time called Mojo. He returned to this imprint sporadically over the years, releasing records on Mojo as late as 1978, and Bear Family’s 2010 disc collects all of these recordings: 1966's Southern Soul at the Brave-Falcon and 1978’s Vintage, plus the 1960 single he released under the name Skip Wiley. Sequenced in reverse, possibly so the best-sounding material arrives first, The Mojo Albums Plus suggests that Mojo wasn’t an ongoing concern as much as it was a way for Riley to muster up a record whenever he had the funds or idea -- and the two LPs here certainly are attached to trends of the time, with Southern Soul following the go-go footsteps of Johnny Rivers and Vintage tied into the rock & roll oldies fad of the late ‘70s. Riley pulls off both trends admirably -- Southern Soul is hampered a bit by its low fidelity (it also seems that only vinyl survives) but has a charming swing, taking a detour for a credible version of the Beatles’ “Nowhere Man” and culminating in a groovy version of “I Washed My Hands in Muddy Water” propelled by a raunchy fuzzy guitar and organ, while Vintage feels lived-in, sometimes rocking with purpose but usually laying back while Billy runs through the rock & roll songbook of the ‘50s. He may never seem like the backwoods wildman of his Sun sides, not even on the 1960 single, but there is certainly pleasure hearing him as a rock & roll journeyman, scraping together a living doing anything he can.
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