The Sun Records Collection, Vol. 2
Sam Phillips launched his Sun Records label in Memphis in 1952 (he added a subsidiary, Phillips International, in 1957), and as the world knows, he discovered Elvis Presley and broke rock & roll on an unsuspecting public in 1954, making the so-called Sun Records sound a Rosetta Stone for the ensuing rock revolution. But like with all stories, there is more to the Sun saga than Presley and the other stars that Phillips discovered (which included Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Charlie Rich, and Jerry Lee Lewis). Initially Phillips recorded mostly black bluesmen from the Memphis area, moving on to an eccentric cast of country players, as well, and while the pressurized test tube that was Memphis (and Sun Studios in particular) in the early '50s eventually produced rock & roll, it also issued forth all manner of other strains of country and blues DNA in recordings that are utterly fascinating. This two-CD set features a disc each of Phillips' country and blues experiments, and these ragged bits of vinyl are something special indeed. Among the gems on the country disc are Malcom Yelvington's (now there's a stage name) "It's Me Baby," Mack Vickery's reverb-laced "Fool Proof," Mack Self's echoing waltz "Easy to Love," Howard Serratt's Woody Guthrie-like "Troublesome Waters," and Warren Smith's lovely tumbleweed ballad "I Fell in Love." The blues disc offers Rufus Thomas' bizarre "Tiger Man (King of the Jungle)," a sequel of sorts to Thomas' "Bear Cat," which was in turn an answer song to Big Mama Thornton's "Hound Dog," Junior Parker's "Mystery Train" Xerox, "Love My Baby," Jeb Stuart's jaunty, horn-augmented "I Bet You're Gonna Like It," and Harmonica Frank Floyd's primitive, ragged, and utterly mesmerizing "Howlin Tom Cat." It's quite a stew, and most of it still sounds vital, fascinating, and a little bit strange even in the early stages of the 21st century. A stripped-down set, Sun Records Collection, Vol. 2 comes with virtually no liner notes, but the music is the proof of the matter, and it more than makes this a decent look behind the curtains at the genius and mayhem that was Sun Studios.