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Notable CDs

Notable CDs | Four noteworthy reissues reviewed by Arsenio Orteza

The Very Best of Little Richard

Style: Twenty-five tracks of the seminal whoop-and-hollering that established the well-pounded klavier as a rock 'n' roll fixture.

Worldview: That, given Little Richard's spotty success since his mid-'50s heyday, it's obvious that "no one since Art Rupe and Specialty Records has ever found the formula for making hit records with the wildest rocker of them all" (Billy Vera's liner notes).

Overall quality: Besides the music's enduring entertainment value, the (mostly) chronological track listing enables

Best of Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys

Style: Thirty-one songs on two discs highlighting the first 20 years of the most inventive progressive Cajun band this side of BeauSoleil.

Worldview: "[Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys] are keenly aware of their role in the continuity of Cajun music and the implications of that role, including such issues as the effects of changing contexts, audience expectations at home and on the road, and the tensions between preservation and innovation" (Barry Ancelet's liner notes).

Overall quality: The sound of a deeply rooted and well-nourished tree branching out.

Dreamtime

Style: An art-punk guitar extravaganza circa 1981 and the second solo album by the leader of Television.

Worldview: That absurd lyricism ("Pray tell me, my little jewel, / whither dost thou long to be?") and deadpan non sequiturs ("Influences I think I am under, / they are so discouraging, it seems to me") heighten the impact of plain declarations ("Darling, mysteries come and go, / but love remains the best-kept secret in town").

Overall quality: The most visceral intersection of poetry, electric guitars, and beguilingly strange singing since mid-'60s Bob Dylan.

The Complete Liberty Singles

Style: Forty-two songs on two discs of the most successful surf-rock combo this side of the Beach Boys.

Worldview: That the late Jan Berry's role in '60s pop remains vastly under appreciated: The liner notes reveal that, among other accomplishments, he was responsible for assembling the Wrecking Crew, a group of studio musicians who went on to perform on dozens of now-classic recordings.

Overall quality: If the non-charting novelty songs outnumber the actual hits, they also provide a background against which the hits sparkle even more brightly.

Spotlight

That early rock 'n' roll was forged between the hammer of Pentecostal Christianity and the anvil of unbridled hedonism is a fact well known to fans of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash. But no early rocker fanned the flames of that forge with more intensity than Richard Penniman. As a black man and a homosexual when to be either was enough to get one lynched, he undoubtedly had enough trouble working out the implications of the faith in which he'd been raised long before he emerged as a symbol of youthful rebellion.

In retrospect, what one hears in the early hits compiled in the just-released The Very Best of Little Richard (Specialty) is not rebellion so much as liberation, for only as "Little Richard" did Penniman feel free. That he eventually returned to his faith (and strayed and returned again) makes even nonsense classics such as "Tutti Frutti" and "Heeby-Jeebies" seem like meaningful signposts along a road less traveled.

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