The third and last of Bear Family's Everly box sets, Chained to a Memory 1966-1972, chronicles the final act of the Everly Brothers' prime years, beginning just after the duo started to shake their mid-'60s doldrums and documenting their subsequent revival as they shifted to country-rock, the sound they continued to mine until their acrimonious split in 1973. This is a weighty set, containing a hefty hardcover book and a bonus DVD in addition to ten CDs, but the extra length isn't merely Bear Family's modus operandi -- it's needed to bring an end to a story this epic. Indeed, the music on Chained to a Memory is in some ways some of the most interesting the Everlys ever produced. As their star began to fade, the Everlys reconnected with their country beginnings, quite deliberately titling their 1968 makeover, Roots, finding a wealth of new sounds and sentiments within country-rock. They exhibited a keen ear for material from emerging songwriters, and they wrote some terrific new songs, songs that exhibited the widening chasm between the two brothers who shared a sound and continued to harmonize beautifully together even as their sensibilities began to drift apart.
All this, of course, is evident on Chained to a Memory, a box that surprises in its variety and consistency, traits that are emphasized by the relative lack of long stretches of alternate takes, something that sometimes slowed its companion, The Price of Fame. Here, on recordings originally released on Warner and RCA, there are no foreign-market releases or holiday albums, no clusters of alternate takes -- the narrative keeps moving with a natural propulsion. The set kicks off with the sessions that resulted in the remarkable 1966 British Invasion salute Two Yanks in England, and after a little hippified stretching, cutting swinging remakes of "Blueberry Hill" and "Good Golly Miss Molly," the group settled into a country-rock groove, stretching it out until their 1973 break. Within that seemingly tight field, the Everlys found plenty of room to roam, giving Hank Snow's "I'm Moving On" a far-out groove that found an odd cousin in a reading of "A Whiter Shade of Pale," letting the brothers do everything from sweet, nostalgic takes of country standards to cutting convincing versions of songs by Kris Kristofferson, John Sebastian, Merle Haggard, Rod Stewart, Guy Clark, and John Prine. They also had considerable live chops, as evidenced by the complete concert captured on disc five, a bit of forceful rock & roll that finds the group opening up oldies to free-form jams that fit the time yet remained ever so slightly outside of it. That description fits the Everlys during these years: apart from 1967's "Bowling Green" they didn't have a single hit and didn't receive much attention outside of Roots, but the music here holds its own with any of the progressive country and country-rock of its time, and when taken with their groundbreaking Cadence recordings and the hits of their earliest Warner recordings, amounts to one of the great 20th century bodies of music.