Train Kept A-Rollin' finds Burlison riffing and wailing among an inspired gathering of stellar musicians and vocalists, including the Band's Levon Helm and Rick Danko, Memphis soul diva Mavis Staples, Los Lobos' Cesar Rosas and Conrad Lozano, Fabulous Thunderbirds harpist-vocalist Kim Wilson, and cousins Rocky (Johnny's son) and Billy Burnette (Dorsey's boy). But this album is neither a stodgy, all-star homage to an ancient genre nor a mere fete to a legendary sideman. Instead Burlison and crew bring new energy -- new life, even -- to some of rockabilly's hoariest anthems, from "Love My Baby" and "Hound Dog" to old Trio classics such as "Lonesome Train," "Lonesome Tears in My Eyes," and, of course, the title track. Although neither Rocky nor Billy showed much promise during their respective solo careers in the Eighties, the Burnettes turn in surprisingly vibrant vocals throughout the set (the former on "Train Kept A-Rollin'," the latter on "Memphis Blues," which he co-wrote). Kim Wilson may be an overbearing and irritating white-boy blues singer with the T-Birds, but his vocal here on "Love's Like Rain" is full of nuance, grace, and grit (the only way to sing, one would reckon, when someone like Mavis Staples is singing behind you).

Naturally, though, the star of the set is Burlison, who turns in performances that are alternately slinky ("Lonesome Tears in My Eyes"), sleazy ("Love's Like Rain") and scintillating ("Lonesome Train," "Boogie to Woodstock") -- all bristling with blues power, dexterous as the honky-tonk workouts of Jimmy Bryant and Speedy West. In other words, rockabilly playing in its quintessence. More than 40 years after the fact, the innovative raunch Burlison brought to early rock and roll guitar playing still cracks and thunders with awesome power and authority. (Sweetfish, 920 Edie Rd., Argyle, NY 12809)

-- John Floyd

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