As one of the prime architects of rockabilly, Carl Perkins has had an impact on singing, songwriting and mostly guitar playing, and his influence can still be heard today in acts like Dave Alvin, Cheap Trick and Brian Setzer. Born to Rock, his first LP of new material in years, is an album for both the faithful and those just discovering him.
Born to Rock isn’t on the level of his Fifties triumphs for Sun or Sixties successes for Columbia, but it shows the master still willing to get his hands dirty. Unlike many early rockers who coast through contractual-obligation records with glazed indifference, Perkins sounds feverishly interested in the ten tracks here. Produced by Judds producer Brent Maher and Judds bandleader Don Potter, Born to Rock shows Perkins summoning up intense performances that are both dignified and open-eyed. The vocal fireworks are most noticeable on the bluesycountry tunes like “Till I Couldn’t Stand No More” and “Love Makes Dreams Come True,” but rockers like “Charlene” compel Perkins to dust off his guitar and discover new lanes on long-traveled roads.
If there’s anything wrong with Born to Rock, it’s that the arrangements are a bit too dense for the lanky songs. The backup vocals don’t add much: The center of each song remains Perkins’s terse guitar and a tight rhythm section of Nashville sessionmen. The songs and the small-band performances don’t need the extra layer. And at a time when most records by first-generation rockers are smothered in strings to hide the shortcomings of the aging performer at the center, that’s quite an achievement.