(Editor's note: This CD is reviewed as one of many "Live at Gilley's" CDs released at the same time)
Once designated as "the world's largest nightclub" by the Guinness Book Of World Records, and turned into an international icon by the movie "Urban Cowboy," Gilley's is now just a memory. The Houston area club burned down in 1989, but Mickey Gilley - in a dispute with the club's co-owner - had removed all of the tapes recorded over the years so they were saved. The material being released on these albums (with more to come) stems from the radio series "Live At Gilley's," syndicated from 1980-1988. They were recorded on 24-tracks, so the sound quality is excellent.
These releases cover a wide range of styles, with two rock 'n' roll discs (Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins), three pop-country (Gilley, Johnny Lee and The Bellamys), and three hard country (Bobby Bare, Freddy Fender and Johnny Paycheck).
The lengths also vary considerably - if these are all complete radio broadcasts either some shows were divided between two acts or some of these discs are heavily edited. While most have 12 tracks, Paycheck's has 20 and Perkins' 19. There are reasonably informative liner notes which give the recording date but no musician credits. If you want to know who's playing you'd better listen closely and hope the name gets mentioned - some are and some are not.
When it comes to putting out live recordings, there are two schools of thought. One is to recreate the concert experience as closely as possible - in other words leave in everything except that which would be clearly boring, such as a two-minute tuning up between songs. The other school is to edit out everything but the music. The latter camp dictated the contents of these discs. If you want to hear these people talking, you'd better hope they talk over the opening and closing notes, because anything else is gone. Some post-song comments are cut practically in mid-sentence as the music ends. For the less talkative acts like Gilley and Lee, this also means most of the applause is cut off. In fact, some of these "concerts" end so quietly, you'll be sitting there wondering whether someone just pulled the plug on your CD player. Editing out between-songs patter is one thing, but it doesn't feel like a real concert without at least an outro (that is, a "good night" or some such from the performer) People who like live albums or concerts as a way of learning about an artist's personality will be disappointed in that aspect on most of these discs. Bare does so much talking over music that you get a good flavor for what a charismatic performer he is, and Lewis doesn't have to talk for his charisma to come across. However, some of these discs feel less like a concert experience then a studio album with dubbed in applause (and often not much of that.)
The music itself will delight fans. Even though some were well past their commercial prime when these recordings were made, the only ones who seems noticeably aged are Perkins, whose voice had significantly deepened by this point. Some discs are pretty much collections of the artist's biggest hits - notably Gilley and Lee - but others mix in a bunch of covers as well. Perkins and Lewis mix their own rockabilly hits in with other people's, Perkins also does one original, "Texas Blue Jeans" which, according to the liner notes, has never appeared on any other recording. Paycheck does some Haggard and Jones as well as "Rollin' In My Sweet Baby's Arms," while Fender includes "Whiskey River," "I Can't Stop Loving You" and the surprising choice of "Six Days On The Road" with only 5 of his 12 tracks being his own hits.
Most live albums are geared primarily to hard-core fans of an artist, and those people will likely overlook, or maybe even prefer, the frequent lack of actual concert ambiance in order to get the high-quality music that the Gilley's discs contain.