Skiffle King

by: Lonnie Donegan

Essentially a slimmed-down version of the Bear Family box set, or an upgrade of the vinyl double Hit Singles Collection, this fully remastered three-CD collection is the last word on Lonnie Donegan's British chart performance. Between 1956 and 1962, Donegan placed no less than 30 singles, one EP, and three LPs on the U.K. chart, most of which are condensed into this well-designed and executed package. No less than 54 tracks tell the Skiffle King's story, and the only caveat would be the lack of any chronological order to the sequencing -- "Rock Island Line," his first hit, is actually the last track in the box; "Cumberland Gap," his tenth, is the selected opener. Full marks, however, for not simply cramming all the hits onto one disc, and leaving the rest of the package to mull over the B-sides and album cuts. Rather, the random positioning ensures that the listener will give the same attention to every number, and draw out a whole new collection of favorites -- "Ham 'n' Eggs," "San Miguel," and a remarkable version of "Miss Otis Regrets" will all delight audiences that may have come in simply to find a best-ever-quality copy of "My Old Man's a Dustman." More than that, however, the box reminds listeners of just how much Donegan achieved during his years of greatest supremacy, as he set the stage not only for an entire generation of young Britons to take up musical arms of their own, but also opened the doors for less traditional musical forms to emerge from the suburbs and smokeholes of late-'50s Britain. The likes of Van Morrison, Elton John, and Mark Knopfler have all praised Donegan as Britain's first pop idol and, though history still insists on confining him to the box marked "skiffle," the Skiffle King reigned over far more than that. ~ Dave Thompson

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