Singer Robert Gordon made one of the sharpest volte-faces in musical memory when he left New York pseudo-punkers Tuff Darts to reappear as a freeze-dried ’50s rocker, complete with sideburns, pompadour, a songbook of Sun Records oldies and authentic guitar icon Link Wray in tow.
Superficial trappings aside, Gordon’s strongest asset is his magnificent voice — a clear, clean baritone rarely heard in pop music of any stripe. His debut album, Robert Gordon with Link Wray, is suffused with rockabilly material (songs from Carl Perkins, Gene Vincent, Billy Lee Riley and Eddie Cochran), but the accompaniment by the Wildcats is more contemporary, with Wray contributing sizzling guitar licks.
Fresh Fish Special (named after Elvis Presley’s haircut in Jailhouse Rock — as typical an homage as the use of the Jordanaires) is more of the same, with barely more sophisticated tunes. The odd track here is Bruce Springsteen’s “Fire,” which was a hit for the Pointer Sisters. Nevertheless, its inclusion proved Gordon didn’t need to rely exclusively on nostalgia.
Besides the addition of echo, Rock Billy Boogie‘s distinction is the replacement of Wray with nimble guitarist Chris Spedding and its inclusion of “Black Slacks,” a jivey Gordon signature number. On Bad Boy, Gordon seems to be evolving from the ’50s into the ’60s via schlockier songs (Roy Orbison’s “Uptown,” Kris Jensen’s “Torture”).
Gordon’s time-traveling into the present continues on Are You Gonna Be the One, his most accessible album for those who don’t worship at the House of Butchwax. Despite his ’50s fixation, Gordon best puts across those songs without a 25-year-old aroma.
Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die is a compilation of tracks from all the preceding albums except Bad Boy, plus a live version of “Black Slacks” and previously unreleased recordings of two Marshall Crenshaw songs.
A more recent concert document, Live at Lone Star finds Gordon running through a classic rock’n’roll program onstage in New York, sharply backed by Spedding, bassist Tony Garnier and drummer Anton Fig. Starting with “The Way I Walk” and running through “Twenty Flight Rock,” “Mystery Train,” “Black Slacks,” “Fire” and ten more, the great-sounding record proves that Robert Gordon is still a master of the form.