TOP 20 (ALMOST) ROCK REISSUES OF 2017
8. Various Artists, Great Guitars at Sun (Bear Family). There were great piano players at Sun (Jerry Lee Lewis and Charlie Rich), and good performers on several instruments, but guitars are what first come to mind when you think of the Sun sound. There were many more Sun recordings with fine guitar than can fit on a single-CD 28-song compilation. But this one does a good job, like its companion-disc-of-sorts Drums at Sun, at mixing tracks by legends (Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Howlin’ Wolf, Roy Orbison) with important less famous names (Junior Parker, James Cotton, Rufus Thomas, Bill Justis, Little Milton, Earl Hooker, Billy Riley) and, at least to non-Sun aficionados, no-names (Dick Penner and Ernie Chaffin, among others).
And while there are some familiar classics (“Mystery Train” by both Presley and Parker, Perkins’s “Matchbox,” Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” Carl Mann’s “Mona Lisa”), most of the selections aren’t ones you’ll find on average Sun best-ofs. To mix things up a bit more, Roy Orbison’s “Ooby Dooby” and Billy Riley’s “Red Hot” are not represented by the versions on original Sun singles, but by alternate takes. Extensive track-by-track annotation enhances appreciation of this material, even if you’re pretty knowledgeable about Sun’s history.
9. Various Artists, Great Drums at Sun (Bear Family). Are drums the first thing you think of when you think of Sun Records? I thought so (meaning the answer’s “no”). Superb singers, yes; guitarists, definitely, whether great solo artists like Carl Perkins or noted session men like Roland Janes; and piano players, even if you can only name Jerry Lee Lewis and Charlie Rich. So this 28-track compilation feels a bit like an excuse to generate a novel anthology of interesting Sun material. On that level, however, it certainly succeeds, mixing material by icons like Perkins, Lewis, Rich, Elvis Presley, and Roy Orbison with names known primarily or exclusively to collectors, whether Billy Lee Riley or guys who make Riley seem familiar, like Jimmy Williams and Vernon Taylor.
Give the compilers credit, however, for largely opting for off-the-beaten tracks by the bigger artists, and sometimes choosing alternate takes (including for two of the most famous songs here, Perkins’s “Boppin’ the Blues” and Rich’s “Lonely Weekends”) instead of the usual hit versions. It’s a good listen, even if I find it a peculiar concept, enhanced by excellent liner notes that focus on the drumming heard on these selections.