Roy Orbison: Black And White Night

    Roy Orbison

    review by Michael Brooke

    Recorded the year of Roy Orbison's untimely death in 1988, this deliciously low-key treat takes the polar opposite approach to the 'Spinal Tap' style rockumentary school, preferring to let the music speak for itself with no interruptions - not even to introduce Orbison's impressive array of backing musicians, all of whom are remarkably and indeed uncharacteristically self-effacing: Elvis Costello strums in the background, Tom Waits hunches over the keyboard, and isn't that Jennifer Warnes, Bonnie Raitt and k.d.lang on 1950s' style doo-wop backing vocals? Well, if you don't recognise them, there's nothing else to guide you, and even Bruce Springsteen is very much playing second fiddle.

    The sole concession to artiness is the black-and-white cinematography (which fits this particular subject like a tailor-made glove) - otherwise the staging is as straightforward and unpretentious as you could wish for. Orbison is firmly centre stage throughout, and the play-list is pretty much what you'd expect: all the obvious hits (Pretty WomanIn DreamsCryingBlue BayouOnly The Lonely) together with more left-field material such as his haunting cover of Costello's The Comedians, delivered in that unique, otherworldly tenor that ranks amongst the most influential in the history of popular music.

    The closing credits are accompanied by brief interviews with his guest stars, though not Orbison himself - and given that he would be dead within months, this absence creates a powerful and poignant sense of loss that paradoxically suits the subject matter of the songs to perfection. I can't think of a better tribute.

    DVD extras: includes two songs not on video release, photo gallery, artist biographies, complete discography, 10-language subtitles, and DVD-ROM weblink.