Friday, June 4, 2021

The Albums of 1971: Link Wray

Release Date: June 1971

Produced by Steve Verocca, Ray Vernon, and Bob Feldman

Track Listing: La De Da; Take Me Home Jesus; Juke Box Mama; Rise and Fall of Jimmy Stokes; Fallin' Rain; Fire and Brimstone; Ice People; God Out West; Crowbar; Black River Swamp; Tail Dragger

Link Wray (1929-2005) was one of the pioneers of rock and roll and needs to be more widely known. The 2017 documentary Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World highlighted Wray's contributions to rock, in particular his 1958 classic "Rumble" which used power chords and influenced everything after. Wray released a number of singles throughout the 1960s and in the early 1970s recorded what became known as the "Shack Sessions." His 1971 eponymous album Link Wray was the first of three albums to emerge from the sessions all recorded at his brother's farm in Maryland. 

"La De Da" channels Wray's frustration with the music industry, infused with the early spirit of rock and roll it builds to a soulful catharsis. "Take Me Home Jesus" is a gospel stomp. "Juke Box Mama" has an earthy sound not all that different from what Dylan and The Band were doing up at Woodstock a few years before. "Rise and Fall of Jimmy Stokes" tells a bluesy narrative. "Fallin' Rain" is more in the folk rock vein with its social commentary. "Fire and Brimstone" is infused with gospel and the blues sounding like a stripped down Rolling Stones song from the era. "Ice People" is anti-establishment agitprop. A fuzzy guitar riff drives the ecologically themed "God Out West." "Crowbar" is a bluesy rocker with an infectious tempo, reminds me of Dylan's "Meet Me in the Morning" on Blood on the Tracks. "Black River Swamp" romantically recalls childhood memories. "Tail Dragger" ends the record with a barnyard jam.

With spare equipment (a can of nails was used for snare drum) and a defiant spirit Link Wray is a must listen album from the era. The sound is in the same style and spirit of The Basement Tapes and proved a major influence on what would become the Americana genre. 

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