Carl Mann, The Complete Sun Recordings, Vol. 1

John Morthland

By John Morthland

on 04.22.11 in Reviews
Meet Sun’s star-crossed prince of pop-rockabilly.

Pianist Mann's brand of pop-rockabilly made him, along with Charlie Rich, Sun's last star. He was also one of the label's biggest hard-luck stories: signed at 16, a star at 17, an alcoholic has-been at 19. His recasting of Nat King Cole's "Mona Lisa," his debut single and a #25 hit in 1959, featured his graceful vocals and a solo by guitarist Eddie Bush that managed to be simultaneously gentle and hard-hitting. Bush was largely responsible for Mann's sound — and rockabilly credibility — with his ever-shifting fills and minimalist, almost mathematically precise solos. He remains the great lost hepcat guitarist. Mann had a followup hit with Cole's "Pretend," but his rocking-the-standards formula soon wilted. And Mann could rock — witness the off-handed virility of "Rockin 'Love," or the enthusiastic cover of "Ubangi Stomp." Indeed, the uptempo sides, while hardly startling, often outshine the ballads that were supposedly his forte. He even got fresh material occasionally, such as Rich's "I'm Coming Home, with its solid piano line and rhythmic guitar, or Bush's bopping "Baby I Don't Care," not to be confused with Elvis '"You're So Square (Baby I Don't Care)." It's not the original Sun wildman sound, but trends had changed by then, and Mann and Bush often made the best of those changes. If you're looking for pop-rockabilly, this is a good place to start.