Bobby Darin 

Aces Back to Back!/Songs from Big Sur

Darin was the consummate pop chameleon, forging a career that variously framed him as a '50s rock 'n' roll teen idol, standards crooner, Vegas powerhouse, and an unlikely -- yet truly compelling -- counterculture protester. This pair of releases complements the hits packages with a look at Darin's mesmerizing stage work and a recitation of his underappreciated latter-day folk-rock songs.

Hyena's CD and DVD package captures Darin's entire arc with live recordings, TV and film footage, a selection of his folksongs, and several rare and intimate small-combo jazz recordings. Crisp video from his 1972 TV variety show demonstrates how freely he could swing like a junior Rat Packer. Whether covering Neil Diamond's "Song Sung Blue" or recounting his own "Beyond the Sea," Darin sizzles with an energy that befits the band's brassy charts. Unreleased documentary footage shows him firmly in control both in the studio and onstage, and additional audio tracks include an astounding stripped-down demo of 1959's "Dream Lover," riveting Vegas performances of Dylan's "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight" and Tim Hardin's "If I Were a Carpenter," and a sampling of Darin's own folk-rock songs.

The Varèse disc focuses on the latter, recorded for Darin's Direction label in the late '60s. Having dropped out to find himself in Big Sur, he doffed his toupee, grew a mustache, and delved into his social consciousness. The transformation was even more astounding than his morph from rock 'n' roll singer to nightclub hipster. Darin proved himself with the thoughtful antiwar "Simple Song of Freedom," and hardship tales like "Jingle Jangle Jungle" and "Long Line Rider." The fluidity with which he moved between folk-rock, soul, blues, jug band, and country flavorings was astounding. These discs show a hall of famer who could convincingly swing like Sinatra and pull it back in for an introspective folk song. Check 'em both out, and you'll find there's a lot more to Darin than "Mack the Knife."

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