Tributee: Sam Phillips .
Liner Note Author: Peter Guralnick.
Peter Guralnick, author of a definitive two-part biography on Elvis Presley, published the equally definitive The Man Who Invented Rock & Roll in 2015. At 784 pages, the book is appropriately weighty. This is a man who not only discovered Elvis Presley, but Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Ike Turner, Carl Perkins, Howlin' Wolf and B.B. King, he deserves an epic but, as he was the quintessential recordman of the 20th century, he also deserves a soundtrack, so Guralnick gave him one, compiling a double-disc set to accompany the book. The recordings Phillips made at his Sun Studios are well-documented, so what gives The Man Who Invented Rock & Roll an edge is the curator's touch. Guralnick doesn't neglect Sun standards -- "Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On," "Moanin' at Midnight," "Rocket 88," "Mystery Train," "Sittin' and Thinkin'," "Blue Suede Shoes," "Hey Porter," and "Rock & Roll Ruby" are all here, as they should be -- but he also doesn't rely on obscurities, either, choosing to balance cult favorites, left-field selections, and cuts from John Prine's 1979 album Pink Cadillac along with the big hits. He also bends unspoken rules of compilations, choosing to discard strict chronological flow and piling Walter Horton tunes upon each other, a move that winds up emphasizing the big picture, how Phillips tapped into the essence of American music in all its wild, untamed weirdness. Decades after its recording, this mid-century music is funny, ribald, passionate, and vital, whether it's electrified blues boogie, backwoods rockabilly, sophisticated country, or Prine's knowing look back at it all, and this compilation, more than most Sun collections, drives right to the heart of the matter. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine