CD Review of The Soul of Rock and Roll by Roy Orbison
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Roy Orbison:
The Soul of Rock and Roll

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

ne of the music world’s greatest enigmas, Roy Orbison both defined and defied the notion of rock star cool. A shy man known as much for his signature sunglasses and unassuming demeanor as for his roll call of indelible hits, he possessed one of the most stirring voices to ever grace a record or a stage, a remarkable instrument that could draw on a full four octaves and swell with power, passion and poignancy. His was an amazing legacy, one that spanned the better part of four decades, a durability that gets its due via the ambitious box set The Soul of Rock and Roll, a comprehensive collection that fully encapsulates his remarkable career. With four CDs focusing on each phase of Orbison’s musical progression – from the dawning of rock ‘n’ roll to his later collaborations with some of music’s biggest names – it covers a remarkable expanse, boasting his signature songs, obscure entries, rarities, live tracks and a booklet filled with facts and testimonials that leave no doubt as to Orbison’s unblinking brilliance.

That’s not to say that everything Orbison ever offered was marked by genius. His first single, "Ooby Dooby," and the bulk of his early singles cut for the Sun label (the early home of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins) did little to foretell the compelling material that would come years later. So while disc one provides early insights into Orbison’s formative period, Orbison enthusiasts will likely want to start their immersion with the second set which focuses on his ‘60s output and his big breakthrough with songs such as ""Only the Lonely," "In Dreams," "Running Scared," "Love Hurts," "Crying," "Love Hurts" and of course "Oh Pretty Woman," material which helped secure him as a radio regular.

Nevertheless, by the latter half of the ‘60s, Orbison’s claim on the charts had diminished. Still, he remained a formidable presence and disc three reflects the fact that while he no longer commanded the airwaves, his name could still impact a movie marquee. However, it’s the fourth and final disc that finds him in full comeback mode – asserting his presence alongside the all-star ensemble the Traveling Wilburys, recording with fellow Wilburys Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and George Harrison individually and collectively, revisiting his emotive ballad "Crying" in a moving duet with kd lang, and ultimately, receiving a celebrity-laden salute via a live cable special, "A Black and White Night." Unlike the taut performances that marked his earlier efforts, the arrangements become bold, booming and flush with emotion, a powerful backdrop that asserts the majesty in his dramatic delivery.

Orbison died 20 years ago this month at the relatively early age of 52, and in a cruel stroke of irony, the final live number included here is a telling rendition of "It’s Over," recorded a scant two days before a heart attack took his life. There are other revealing tracks as well – "Life Fades Away," "Big as I Can Dream" and "(I’d Be) A Legend in My Time." But ultimately, it’s the tender tunes that best describe this magnificent minstrel, songs laced with heartbreak and vulnerability and rendered with a voice that genuinely belongs to the ages.

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