Orbison Records, 1998
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/16/1998
Up until recently, there was only one live album by the late Roy Orbison available on the market - the Black & White Night tribute concert. Now, almost ten years after his death, Orbison's widow Barbara has combed the vaults and come up with Combo Concert, a 1965 performance from Holland.
The concert, held on March 25, 1965, is short in comparison to the concept of a "concert" today - Orbison only performs nine songs in just under a half-hour. This is probably the most disappointing feature of this album - it just begins to whet your desire to hear more, when it cuts off. The five songs from Orbison's Paris show two days earlier help a little bit, but not much, as four of the songs are repeats.
For those who grew up listening to Orbison on the radio, Combo Concert will be both a blast from the past and a breath of fresh air. Almost all of the big hits that can still be heard on oldies radio are here. "Only The Lonely" is a good kickoff to the show, allowing the backing band to quickly establish a groove. The dual guitar work of Billy Sanford and John Rainey Adkins is particularly noteworthy, as is the drum work of Paul Garrison.
At times, Orbison sounds like he's rushing himself; "Running Scared" is plowed through in what feels like record time. I don't remember the song being that fast on the studio counterpart (though I'm willing to admit I'm wrong on this one). For that matter, both versions of "Dream Baby" also sound a bit sped up - I don't know why this bothers me like it does.
The only real mis-step here is Orbison's cover of "What'd I Say," where his deadpan lyric delivery just doesn't fit the song the way that Ray Charles delivered it. It also seems like someone missed a cue on "Blue Bayou," the only song from the Paris set not performed in Holland. However, when Orbison and crew were on, they could almost do no wrong. "Mean Woman Blues" is a rollicking good time, while "It's Over" and "Goodnight" are very moving. And both versions of "Oh, Pretty Woman" are standouts.
In one sense, the listener should be amazed that the tapes of this show sound as good as they do 33 years after they were recorded; there are very few dropouts (though when they occur they are noticeable). I do, however, question the term "authorized bootleg recordings," used to describe the Paris selections (which sound like they were remastered from a vinyl source). Not to be nitpicky, but if something is "bootleg," trust me - it ain't authorized. I do wish that this disc had been longer; 37 minutes just doesn't do Orbison justice here. (I have a feeling that we'll be seeing more releases like this in the future - and I welcome them.)
Orbison's star was definitely back on the rise around the time of his death in 1988; Combo Concert should help raise today's generation's awareness of one of the legends of rockabilly. For the "baby boomers" like my dad, this one should bring back some memories.