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Billy Lee Riley

Hillbilly Rockin' Man – 2003 (Reba)

Reviewed by Ken Burke

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CDs by Billy Lee Riley

Long before he recorded the wild rockers "Red Hot" and "Flying Saucers Rock'n'Roll" at Sun Records, Billy Lee Riley performed pure hillbilly and gospel with local radio's KTBM Ranch Boys. However, during a 50-year career which has encapsulated everything from pop, rock, r&b and blues, he has not released a flat-out country music project until now.

This blends Bakersfield twang with touches of Western Swing, honky-tonk heartache and splashes of old time country. Riley, who wrote 7 of the 12 tunes, is smartly backed by right the accomplished retro group the Cuttin' Crew.

The set peaks when Riley exults with rhythmic gusto ("Hillbilly Rockin' Man," "I'm So Glad (She's My Woman)") or draws poignant longing from some choice autobiographical ballads ("The Song Writer," "Country Star"). Interesting too, is the Arkansas legend's foray into Tex Williams style talking boogie ("Don't You Do Me Dirty") and a Jones/Frizzell-influenced drinking lament ("The Bottle").

Further, lest you forget that he was one of Memphis's finest rockin' cats, Riley offers one of his best-ever rockabilly performances ("Be My Baby Tonight"). The 69-year-old cult hero sounds right at home on this tasty country debut, which makes one wonder how his career would have progressed had he embraced this genre sooner.