It’s high time someone reissued Aretha Franklin’s pre-stardom Columbia albums on CD. Three discs on American Beat contain two early LPs each, unearthing several sizzlers that always fall through the cracks on her hits packages. The pairing of Soul Sister (1966) and the next year’s Take It Like You Give It is stuffed with exhilarating R&B. The Queen’s live ’64 set Yeah!!! is twinned with the savory R&B cover-heavy Runnin’ Out of Fools (1965), while The Electrifying Aretha Franklin (1962) and Laughing on the Outside (1963) are heavy on pop standards yet sport very soul-steeped moments. A total lack of liner notes is the only drawback.
Shout! Factory brings together two memorable mid-’70s film soundtracks by Gladys Knight & The Pips on one CD. The legendary vocal group did the uplifting music for “Claudine” (helmed by Curtis Mayfield, it contained their hit “On And On” and “Make Yours A Happy Home”) and “Pipe Dreams,” which also co-starred the multi-talented Knight. (www.shoutfactory.com)
Roy Orbison’s legacy receives deluxe treatment on the four-disc The Soul of Rock and Roll, a joint project from Monument/Legacy and Orbison Records that’s a major improvement on CBS’ old Orbison box. Rarities abound on the first disc: A handful of pre-Sun artifacts are joined by a series of unissued late ’50s songwriting demos and an unplugged 1956 “Guitar Pull Medley” that’s heavy on Elvis ballads. Orbison’s rockabilly-soaked Sun and hit-heavy Monument catalogs logically comprise a large part of the collection, but Roy never really ran out of gas, so the last disc boasts his Jeff Lynne-produced ’88 smash “You Got It” and “Not Alone Any More” from his days with the Traveling Wilburys. (www.legacyrecordings.com)
Few young singers in the pompadoured Sun Records stable rocked any harder than Hayden Thompson. Bear Family’s Rock-A-Billy Gal — The Sun Years, Plus proves that, its 30 tracks starting with newly unearthed alternate takes of his 1956-57 Memphis-cut classics “Love My Baby,” “Fairlane Rock,” “Blues Blues Blues” and the title track. What’s surprising is how tough he stayed after arriving in Chicago in 1958; Travis Westmoreland’s lead guitar on “Kansas City” and “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man” is as dazzling as Roland Janes’ at Sun.
Like Hayden, Sleepy LaBeef’s still out there blasting rockabilly anthems like it’s 1956. That’s where Bear Family’s 35-song Sleepy Rocks begins, with LaBeef’s towering cover of Elvis’ “Baby Let’s Play House.” Sleepy bounced from label to label, unleashing a slew of torrid singles out of Houston: “All Alone,” “All The Time,” “Little Bit More,” “Turn Me Loose,” “Ride On Josephine” and the wildest