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Orbison, Joel, R. Kelly in spotlight

May 15, 2014
By MARK J. MILLER - Weelender co-editor ( , Weirton Daily Times

This week I review three classic titles to be released by Sony/Legacy.

Roy Orbison - "Mystery Girl"

Roy Orbison made his name in the early 1960s with a string of unearthly and ethereal songs - mostly sung falsetto - that were haunting and majestic. One of the most eccentric-looking and unlikely of rock stars in the age of Elvis, Orbison played the lonely guy, the one least likely to get the girl.

In his trademark black leather jacket and thick eyeglasses, Orbison penned and sang mini-symphonettes to the teenagers who were the outcasts, and, like himself, deeply romantic but misunderstood.

Orbison had tremendous control over his voice, and this made an impression on up-and-comers such as the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and others. They understood the pathos and deep well Orbison was drawing from and were in awe of both his operatic vocals and songwriting chops.

Once the hits stopped coming Orbison was mostly forgotten until he joined the unlikely Traveling Wilburys with Dylan, George Harrison Tom Petty and Jeff Lynn.

That, along with Van Halen covering his hit "Pretty Woman" and the use of the song "In Dreams" in the David Lynch-directed "Blue Velvet" made Orbison a hot commodity once again, resulting in one of his best albums recorded in 1988 with co-songwriters Petty, Lynne, Elvis Costello and, of course, his own unique compositions.

With reverence and respect for Orbison's history and sympathetic support from Petty's Heartbreakers, members of Booker T and the MGs and Jim Keltner on drums, "Mystery Girl" was a hit, both with critics and the public with the hit single "You Got It."

Orbison's comeback was cut short by his sudden and unexpected death, but he left us with one more masterpiece reminding us there was a time when giants ruled the Earth.

The CD release includes a DVD documentary of the making of "Mystery Girl," while the album also will be pressed on vinyl in a deluxe set. "Mystery Girl" drops next Tuesday.

Billy Joel - "A Matter of Trust - the Bridge to Russia"

I remember Billy Joel's tour of the former Soviet Union in 1987. Known as one of the bad boys of rock with a chip on his shoulder, I remember Joel wowing the crowds in Russia with his stage antics, including everything from rants to tipping over his piano in a fit of rage.

Whether this was contrived or just Joel giving those living behind the Iron Curtain a rare glance into American rock star attitude is anybody's guess, but there is no doubt it was a landmark tour Joel took seriously when few western rock acts performed in the communist world.

Things were changing rapidly in the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, eventually resulting in the failure of the Soviet Union as a state.

What wasn't a failure was Joel's "give 'em hell" attitude during the tour while also performing stunning versions from his catalog of hits, including "An Innocent Man," the moving "Allentown," "Only the Good Die Young," "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me" and a raucous version of the Beatles' "Back in the U.S.S.R."

It may seem incredible now, but his short tour at the time was considered one of many events culminating in the collapse of the country and new-found freedoms for its people. This was a time when music could still make a difference in the world, and it did.

Also set to be released Tuesday, the package comes in a two-CD format, DVD format or a deluxe edition featuring both CD and DVD versions of the concert and documentary of the tour. This is a great chance to own a piece of musical history that literally helped change the world we live in.

R. Kelly - "The Essential R. Kelly"

Crossing the boundaries between pop, hip hop and R&B, R. Kelly is one of those performers who dominated what was left of radio in the 1990s, racking up a string of crossover hits, including "Honey Love," "You Remind Me of Something," I'm Your Angel" and several more.

Kelly did his best to be all things to everyone - bad-ass thug to smooth lover, Luther Vandross style. And, for a while, he got away with it, as mixing older, traditional R&B styles with more modern production was something novel.

"The Essential" includes a ton of DJ remixes along with cameos from just about everyone who was someone in the '90s, from the Notorious B.I.G. to Nas to old school R&B masters Ronald and Ernie Isley. Produced for maximum airplay for both black and white audiences, it really was the beginning of the cookie-cutter format for black music. To be honest, this really isn't my thing, as I prefer the more organic R&B of the '60s and '70s, but in the '90s you had to be everything or you wouldn't get airplay. It's too bad R. Kelly couldn't just be what he really was, which was a pretty convincing bedroom crooner. But I guess times change.

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