By rights, Moon Mullican should be a legend twice over, in country music and rock & roll. He merged them both -- as well as blues, pop, and honky tonk -- into a seamless whole at the drop of a hat and the ripple of a keyboard, and also managed to play a seminal role in the history of Western swing, all in a recording career that lasted less than 30 years. Instead, for decades he was one of those "lost" musical figures from the '40s and early '50s, whose career paved the way for rock & roll, who was born just a little too early, and who was a little too old to take advantage of what he'd started.
The "king of the hillbilly piano players" shows up at his best on these 24 tracks, cut during his prime years, 1946 through 1954, when he was associated principally with King Records. It's easy to hear the roots of Jerry Lee Lewis's (as well as elements of Carl Perkins') sound in early cuts like "Cherokee Boogie", on which Moon Mullican and his band find room for a rippling, pounding performance on piano as well as a short, hot guitar solo around a jaunty, funny honky tonk core, and most of the rest of what's here is as good as that. Indeed, 90 percent of this collection would have passed as rock & roll a few years later, with "Rocket to the Moon" so suggestive as to have had the potential to be banned -- the latter also features one of the rare sax solos heard on this collection, which mostly features hot piano and guitar. There is some purer country here as well, including "I'll Sail My Ship Alone," Mullican's one serious hit, a ballad of lost love made special primarily by his flashy piano solo and its catchy chorus; the jaunty "Downstream," a lament about a life misspent; and a country waltz version of Leadbelly's "Goodnight Irene." There also a fair amount of country blues, including "I Done It" and "Moonshine Blues," both showcases for the artist's piano. The sound is excellent and the programming generous, and if there is one flaw, it's the lack of information about the recordings or the sessions in the notes, but that doesn't detract from the music at all. MC
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