If nothing else, Darin was protean. In his short but prolific career (he died in 1973 at age 37), the Bronx-born singer tried nearly every conceivable contemporary pop style: doo-wop, rock, standards, folk and even country. What made this diversity possible was Darin's surprisingly hip sensibility and his canny, often subtle gift for mimicry. Those abilities resulted in a series of hits in the late '50s: "Splish Splash," "Mack the Knife" and "Beyond the Sea." Soon after his commercial peak, Darin entered his best known and least ambitious period as a lesser lounge singer, failing to keep the mold off chestnuts like "My Funny Valentine" and "Hello, Dolly!"
The real treat on this kitschy but intriguing four-CD set is the potency of the earliest recordings, those made in the late '50s, when Darin was working with pioneering producer Ahmet Ertegun. Rife with echoes of everyone from Louis Prima to Fats Domino to Roy Orbison, these energetic songs sparkle as brightly as any music recorded in that early rock era. Wow, Bobby Darin: a majorly cool dude. Who would have thunk it? (Rhino)