Albert Lee

Gypsy Man – A Tribute to Buddy Holly
Label:  Mann Bros.
Catalogue number: 0672975035488

Tracks: Gypsy Man / Every Day / Tell Me How / That’ll Be the Day / Peggy Sue / Well All Right / Words of Love / Learning the Game / Heartbeat / I Fought the Law / Take Your Time / More Than I Can Say (Playing time: 31:08)

Albert Lee CD cover - Gypsy Man

Albert Lee, one of most-liked guitarists in the  business, certainly has the rock’n’roll credentials, having played and recorded with the Crickets, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley and many more. He has now turned his hand to recording 12 compositions from Buddy Holly, J.I. Allison, and Sonny Curtis. Albert, whose voice has a much wider range than I had previously realised, takes all the lead vocals and also plays his Huss and Dalton acoustic guitar and Musicman electric guitar, and piano. The overdubbing is minimal and the result is a very ‘live’ sound, close to that achieved by Norman Petty.

The title track is a Sonny Curtis composition and was a single for Sonny in the late ‘60s, and I remember Albert performing it with the band Country Fever decades ago. With an easy-going mellow sound, it sets the tone for the album. Every Day is one of the stand-out tracks, with a beautiful acoustic guitar solo, sad and almost despairing, without the underlying confidence of Holly’s version. The three Crickets’ classic rockers — Tell Me How, That’ll Be the Day and Peggy Sue — follow the Holly blueprint closely, and why try to improve upon perfection? An unobtrusive backing chorus is dubbed on, far less prominent and consequently far more effective than the Picks’ efforts. The paradiddles are there on Peggy Sue, the guitar solos are perfect, and That’ll includes that classic slow-down in the final chorus that the Beatles borrowed for the ending of I Want to Hold Your Hand.

Well All Right features an acoustic guitar and a piano playing together, and it’s always good to hear a flawless interpretation of the classic Holly composition Words of Love. Learning the Game starts with just Albert on piano, and is a similar arrangement to the one he used on his recording of the song on the album of a few years ago, The Crickets and their Buddies, but without the cello. He is then joined by the other musicians — Albert’s son Wayne (piano and vocals), Ollie Sears (drums and vocals), and David Mann (drums). (Dave and his brother Tim also produced all the tracks). This version, slower than Holly’s version recorded in his New York apartment, is an absolute masterpiece. Let’s hope that Albert follows this with versions of Holly’s other final compositions, wonderful songs and most of them heart-wrenchingly sad. This is followed by a great version of another later Holly co-composition Heartbeat, with a fine guitar solo.

Next, Albert rocks it up with a driving version of the Sonny Curtis much-covered classic I Fought the Law (with gently dubbed-on vocal backing) and a so-called Holly B-side, Take Your Time (which for some reason is credited to Norman Petty alone), with nice harmony vocals and another great guitar solo. The final track, the Sonny Curtis/Jerry Allison evergreen More Than I Can Say features Albert on what sounds like two pianos and a very strong vocal. I’ve played this CD repeatedly over the last couple of weeks. It serves as a reminder, if we needed one, of what fine songwriters Buddy Holly and his two friends were and how some of his arrangements — particularly on the rocking tracks — simply cannot be improved upon. Albert Lee is clearly a huge fan of Holly’s, the stripped-down sound that he and his musicians and producers have achieved is entirely appropriate, his guitar-playing is spot-on, and his vocals on the slower songs, particularly Every Day and Learning the Game, are a revelation.

This CD is available through the website and will soon be on sale through Amazon.

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