Sunday, 28 December 2008

Sleepy LaBeef - Sleepy Rocks

Sleepy Rocks (Bear Family BCD 15981 AR)

The latest in the excellent Rocks series looks at the distinguished and prolific career of the Human Jukebox, Sleepy LaBeef. The 6'7" man mountain was born Thomas Paulsley LaBeff in Smackover, Arizona. Heavily hooded eyes earned him his Sleepy moniker while the Human Jukebox comes from the fact that's he's reputed to have thousands of songs in his repertoire. Thirty five of them are included here and it probably goes without saying that the sound quality and packaging has that usual German precision we've come to know and love.

As for the music, Sleepy has the fantastic quality of giving everything a genuine edge. The brilliance of the early stuff is beyond reproach, but what amazes me is the songs he did in later decades. By the '70s and '80s most covers of Roll Over Beethoven and Ride On Josephine sound like karaoke but not in the hands of Sleepy LaBeef who always gave his covers a forceful drive. If it's the early stuff that floats your boat you're gonna find it hard to go past the opening tracks with the well know belters, All The Time and I'm Through being as goods as rockabilly gets. There's a couple of early demos here, one being the scorching reading of Elvis' Baby Let's Play House.

There's a great feel to the trio of numbers from the Columbia Nashville session in September 1965, with the harmonica adding a welcome addition - You Can't Catch Me is perhaps the best Chuck Berry cover west of Dave Edmunds. When he joined the reactivated Sun label he cut a few first class albums, the pick of this hear being his cover of Sandford Clark's Lonesome For A Letter. This CD maintains the high quality of the series and is a worthy addition to anyone's collection.

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