If ever an artist’s image matched the tenor of his real life, it was Roy Orbison’s. The raven-haired, Ray-Ban-wearing singer projected an aura of impossible sadness and pain in his songs, and the truth of his life was not far removed from his art. Orbison first rose to fame in the early ’60s with a string of operatic anthems built around his fluttering falsetto, but that success was tempered by tragedy: first, the death of his wife, Claudette, in a motorcycle accident, and then, a couple of years later, the loss of his two young sons in a house fire while he was on the road. This 90-minute DVD traces Orbison’s life from the Texas oil fields of his youth to his early rockabilly forays for Sun Records to his eventual stardom and down through a slow but inevitable career decline. The final act of Orbison’s life was a tale of redemption: He found love with his new wife, Barbara, and earned much-overdue recognition in the ’80s, sparked by the use of his music in David Lynch’s 1986 cult hit, Blue Velvet. Feted by followers like Bruce Springsteen and worshipped by his peers (including George Harrison and Bob Dylan, whom he joined in the Traveling Wilburys), Orbison was just 52 when he died in 1988. In Dreams features interviews with the key figures in his story and unearths a wealth of performance footage. While it doesn’t dig too far into Orbison’s psyche and suffers from a bit of sloppy editing, it still provides a compelling take on the Big O’s life and times. — Bob Bozorgmehr
(Lost Highway Records)
As is her wont, Lucinda Williams has taken her own sweet time — about four years — to follow up her last studio effort, 2003’s World without Tears. On West, just her eighth album since 1979, Williams makes a subtle stylistic shift. Coproduced by Williams and Hal Willner (Elvis Costello, Lou Reed) and featuring a cast of tasteful backing players — including Jayhawks leader Gary Louris, avant-rock guitarist Bill Frisell, legendary session drummer Jim Keltner, and Bob Dylan bandleader and bassist Tony Garnier — the record has a lighter, breezier quality in both the writing and the singing than anything Williams has previously committed to tape. Highlights include the haunting rumination “Fancy Funeral,” the Latin-flecked “Rescue,” and the gently chugging opener “Are You Alright?” For some, her intentionally simple lyrics and drawled-to-the-point-of-caricature singing can be grating at times, but the light touch of the band and the production here redeem almost any creative miscues — well, except for a misguided attempt at hip-hop rhyming on the interminable nine-minute “Wrap My Head around That.” It’s nonetheless a fine testament to her maturing creative vision. — B.B.
Over the years, the impact of hillbilly harmony duo the Louvin Brothers on country and rock music has been deeply felt. A quick look at the range of artists who’ve covered the group’s songs — from Merle Haggard to the Byrds to the Raconteurs — proves as much. So it’s no surprise that the first new album in a decade from the surviving Louvin, 79-year-old Charlie, has brought out a host of heavyweights eager to pay homage, a diverse cast of contributors like Elvis Costello, George Jones, Jeff Tweedy, Will Oldham, Tom T. Hall, Tift Merritt, Marty Stuart, and Bobby Bare, as well as members of Bright Eyes, Lambchop, Clem Snide, and Superchunk. Fortunately, the Louvin disc keeps the focus on the artist rather than on his guests. Louvin’s warm, weathered voice and soulful delivery are front and center as he revisits a dozen of his own catalog classics and favorite covers. When he does duet, the interplay between the singer and his admirers is a genuine pleasure. Louvin and George Jones make enjoyable work of “Must You Throw Dirt in My Face” and the Jimmie Rodgers hobo lament “Waiting for a Train.” Elsewhere, Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy — who covered the Louvins’ cold-war gospel treasure “Great Atomic Power” while a member of Uncle Tupelo — takes considerable care with the song while sitting at the feet of the master. Solidly entertaining from start to finish, this is the all-too-rare case of a late-career comeback that actually delivers on its promise. — B.B.
Don’t Look Back: ’65 Tour Deluxe Edition
Don’t Look Back, documentarian D.A. Pennebaker’s cinema-verité-style film that captures Bob Dylan’s 1965 solo U.K. tour, is, by now, the stuff of familiar legend. Over the past 40-plus years, Pennebaker’s famed black-and-white images have spawned countless imitations and homages; they have also birthed a thriving industry of handheld-shot, up-close-and-personal music documentaries. This new collector’s edition of the film is a treat for both hard-core Dylan-istas and casual fans alike. Packaged as a two-disc set, it includes a fresh digital transfer of the film, the original 1968 bound companion guide to the movie, and even a flip book of the iconic “Subterranean Homesick Blues” video. But the most significant bonus is a new hour-long documentary by Pennebaker, which features scores of unseen tour footage and is called Bob Dylan ’65 Revisited. In it, the director recounts the inner workings and behind-the-scenes machinations of Dylan’s last acoustic tour, explaining how Dylan’s pioneering efforts unintentionally legitimized the union of rock music and movies. Now that Don’t Look Back has been given the lavish treatment it deserves, all that’s left is for Dylan himself to allow an official release of the little-seen Pennebaker-filmed follow-up about his 1966 electric tour, Eat the Document. — B.B.