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Roy Orbison's Voice Rings True on 'Holland'

January 24, 1998|ROBERT HILBURN

*** ROY ORBISON, "Combo Concert, 1965 Holland", Orbison

If you already have a greatest-hits album by Orbison, or his only other live collection, the 1987 "Black & White Night," you may not think there is much need for this package.

Not only is the album skimpy (just over half an hour), but it also consists chiefly of hits that you're likely to have, including "Running Scared," "Crying" and "Oh, Pretty Woman." In fact, the last two are on the album twice because they are also among the five bonus tracks taken from a second 1965 concert in Paris.

So what does "Combo Concert" have going for it?

Mainly, Orbison's great voice.

Few singers in the modern pop era have brought such authority and range to their work--or such a trademark style.

Orbison, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member who died of a heart attack in 1988, started out on the same Memphis label, Sun Records, as Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, but he went in a different musical direction.

Drawing as much from pop as from blues and country, Orbison injected his vocals with such dramatic intensity that the best of his recordings captured perfectly the hopes--as well as the anxiety and even the paranoia--of uncertain romance.

Given the operatic precision of Orbison's sometimes remarkable vocals, it's easy for someone only casually acquainted with his work to imagine that he was dependent on the control and "second take" possibilities of the recording studio to achieve such heights.

But this music--most of it from a TV special filmed in Holland in 1965 and all previously unreleased on record--demonstrates his ability as a live performer. He also shows in his version of Ray Charles' "What'd I Say" his strength as an interpreter of other people's material, moving away from Charles' own approach in places.

The music and sound are a bit raw in places, but the voice is still capable of giving you chills.

*** 1/2 Toots & the Maytals, "The Very Best of Toots & the Maytals," Music Club.

Toots Hibbert is one of the great names of reggae, an artist who combines a deep love of American R&B (particularly the soul strains of Otis Redding and Sam Cooke) with the celebration of early ska music.

If you want the definitive Maytals collection, look for "Time Tough--The Anthology," a two-disc set released in 1996 by Island Jamaica. But this budget package (which you can probably find for under $10) should suffice nicely if you are just looking for the highlights. The 16 tracks, taken from the group's vintage '60s and '70s period, include "Do the Reggay," the 1968 hit that is generally credited as giving the flavorful Jamaican musical style its name. Also included: a customized version of John Denver's "Take Me Home Country Roads," which is reset in Jamaica, as well as "Pressure Drop" and "Sweet & Dandy," both from the landmark film "The Harder They Come."

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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