If you ever wondered what the fuss was all about with Memphis songwriting institution Keith Sykes, the 20-track compilation Retrospective Vol. 1 provides the best answer around.
Revered in country music circles, Kentucky-born/Memphis-bred Sykes has had his music recorded by the likes of Rosanne Cash, Rodney Crowell, the Judds, John Prine and Jimmy Buffett, to name but a few. Listening to these vintage tracks, which span three decades, one can see how Sykes’s sweet-tempered way with a tune would cast such a wide net of admirers.
The anthology opens with several selections from his two classic Vanguard albums, 1970’s eponymous Keith Sykes and the 1972 follow-up 1-2-3. Folks will immediately home in on the singing, almost unnaturally youthful and bright compared to the warm, coaxing tones his voice has taken on over the years. Yet, like all of Sykes’s best work, the tunes sing themselves, especially the nostalgic “Kentucky Lake” and the moving, Dylan-esque “Daddy Raised Hell.”
You also get a near glam workout of “Rainin’ (In My Soul),” the song that later opened Rosanne Cash’s modern country landmark Seven Year Ache; a poignant version of “The Coast of Marseilles,” which found its way on Son of a Son of a Sailor by onetime employer Buffett; and the rocker, “B.I.G.T.I.M.E.,” covered by both Mitch Ryder and George Thorogood.
Some of the production on the ’80s material sounds dated, though the personality of such material as the topical “Trash” and the Bob Seger-worthy “Think About Love” nonetheless shines through. The archival-focused collection fittingly closes with tracks from It’s About Time, the early ’90s album Sykes made for John Prine’s Oh Boy label.
Fans will inevitably find some favorites missing from the “best-of” list, including the Buffett anthem “Volcano” and the Prine co-write “You Got Gold.” I guess that’s why this disc is dubbed Vol. 1.
– Bill Ellis – Memphis Commercial Appeal