If there was one artist I grew up with from the ’50s and early ’60s, it was Johnny Rivers. But if there were two artists I grew up from the ’50s and early ’60s it was Roy Orbison. You see, we listened to oldies radio. But when we didn’t listen to oldies stations, we either listened to Weird Al or my dad’s tapes. He had a Roy Orbison greatest hits tape and I can’t begin to tell you how many times we listened to that. At least three of these songs were on it, the title track, “Blue Bayou” and “All I Have to Do Is Dream,” all of which I appear to know word-for-word 30 years later.
So those songs make it feel a bit like a greatest hits record to me, if only the remaining songs were as strong as those ones seem to me. But many of them sound to me as if they are imitations of other songs he released at other times. Because I cannot recall which greatest hits album I grew up listening to, I don’t know whether those songs came later or more recently, but the impression is that generally Orbison has a very specific style, which makes regular use of boleros – that’s being kind, never has the bolero been more over-used by a rock musician than on this record – and some other things that are uncommon in the music of other “rock and roll” musicians of his era.
Of course, the idea that Orbison is a rock and roll performer is a bit of a misnomer, as much of his music is highly arranged in comparison to his contemporaries.
And I can’t quite get over that, even though everything is very well done, and Orbison’s voice is justly famous, there’s a lot here that feels to me like an overly polished version of something much rawer. This fusion feels relatively unique to me – almost as if Roy Orbison is doing something akin to what Ray Charles was doing, in terms of fusing arrangements from one genre and bringing them to another – but it still feels pretty damn safe and whitewashed.
So I guess it’s good, but I can’t say that I love it.