E-mail Shaun


Recent purchases - September 2004
Gretchen Wilson: Here For The Party
Randy Miles: Texas Truck
Country Purchases - June 2004 (Cash & Faron)
WAYLON JENNINGS - The Wurlitzer Prize
King Hillbilly Bop 'n' Boogie Various Artists) & RCA Hillbilly (Various Artists)
BEST OF ... JOE ELY ... BR549


Recent purchases - September 2004

Notorious Cherry Bombs
Universal B000253002

The Nashville Acoustic Sessions:
Raul Malo, Pat Flynn, Rob Ickes, Dave Pomeroy

CMH CD-8709

James Intveld
Innerworks - D2-24911

A highlight of this summers releases which will no doubt come in like a lamb and out like a lamb. I'm sure the Cherry Bombs won't mind, it's not like it's their big chance at fame. They comprise of no lesser lights than Vince Gill, Rodney Crowell, Tony Brown, Richard Bennett and Hank Devito, together with keyboardist John Hobbs, drummer Eddie Bayers, Jr. and Michael Rhodes. The band in various forms became Crowell's backing band in the 70s and were all linked with the Bombs through Emmylou Harris' Hot Band. Sound complicated? Don't worry, the music isn't. It's just straight ahead good time country with great picking, great songwriting and above all, a great ambience. This disc reeks of smiles. Gill and Crowell are known to all and Brown and Bennett have laid down highly successful careers in the biz, which Devito remains one of the best though shamefully underrated songwriters.

No point (cherry!) picking favourites, there's no weak songs here. Whether it's the funky On The Road To Ruin, the smooth Forever Sunday or the riotous It's Hard To Kiss The Lips At Night That Chew Your Ass Out All Day Long, you will get entertained. By the way, you don't have to be a country boy to buy this one, lovers of Dave Edmunds will find much to enjoy here, as would fans of the likes of Dire Straits - the only thing is, I don't suppose many Dire Straits fans will be reading this. It might have taken 25 years for the group to get together and cut an album, but it was surely worth the wait.

Not a whole lot different in format from the Notorious Cherry Bombs, this little peach again saw a bunch of Nashville's finest hitting it off and recording the whole shooting match for the world to enjoy. Here though the emphasis is on covers of classic songs, done acoustically (as the title might suggest!!) and with the golden tonsils of Raul Malo out front. Songs like Blue Bayou and When I Stop Dreaming are made for Malo to cover. Less obvious but equally engaging are The Great Atomic Power (one of two Louvin Brothers numbers included) and Early Morning Rain. Special mention as well for Hot Burrito #1 which even got the misses singing. Whilst some might find the gentle sound a bit too laid back, others like myself will no doubt relish the chance to hear some delicate backing and Malo's fabulous voice. Well worth checking out.

I know the James Intveld has been out for seven years now but it's the first time I've heard it and it's definitely worth a couple of lines. The first thing to admire is his voice which has a hypnotic quality and to me sounds a lot like the sadly overlooked Stacy Dean Campbell, one of the 80s/90s guys who unfortunately fell through the net. Apart from one track (Kermit Vale) I thought every song was winner. Particularly appealing were the semi-rocking tracks, Perfect World and Cryin' Over You, both sounding how you'd like Chris Isaak to record. A cool dude with strong sides, good looks and great voice, this guy should be a major star.

Thanks to Jeff Evans for the chance to hear some of these.

Shaun Mather
September 2004


Gretchen Wilson:
Here For The Party

Epic 517431 2

While taking an unusual trip through today's pop music channels, I was knocked over by the rowdy country single from Gretchen Wilson. Never having heard of her, she was a breath of fresh air for me. Whether she can be the same for the country music industry is to be seen, but she's made one hell of a start. In May debut single "Redneck Woman" became the first number one song for a solo female singer on the Billboard country singles charts for over two years. On top of which, it reached the peak quicker than any single for over a decade. It's even made an impression on the UK charts and can be readily bought in all music stores - now that doesn't happen to many country albums in Britain.

To capitalise, Epic brought forward the release of her debut album, "Here For The Party" by two months. It sold over a quarter of a million during it's first week, the highest seller by a new artist in Nashville's history. It went straight to number one in the country album charts and debuted at number two on the pop charts. So, how good is it?

Not bad actually, but not as good as the record books will show. "Redneck Woman" is the best thing on here. It's a real ballsy, dance-floor-filler with Wilson revelling in her role as a honky tonk good time gal. This is white trash and proud of it - hell yeah, why not. While we've gotten used to the sophisticated lyrics of today's yuppy country women, Wilson is more like Loretta Lynn or Tanya Tucker - and good for her that she's proud of that. The title track is similar in sound and theme, ("I'm here for the beer and the ball-bustin' band") and is good fun. It's the type of song which will surely become her forte.

In all fairness, When I Think About Cheatin' is a gentle tale of love prevailing over the chance to play away, a strange lyric perhaps, but musically is straight ahead country with fiddle and steel aplenty - ditto, The Bed.Homewrecker sounds like the Dixie Chicks without in-yer-face banjo. I dislike Chariot but I'm sure some will find it appealing. When It Rains is a great honky tonker about the bottle helping with pain - "when it rains I pour". The album closes with "Pocahontas Proud", a Lynyrd Skynyrdesque tribute to her hometown.

It's the uptempo numbers that work best and I hope that the second album (unless she gets dropped for having a fiddle in the band!!), will have more ball-busters than heartbreakers. If you're expecting ten tracks like "Redneck Woman" you'll be disappointed but if you're after a handful of ballads thrown in, this album could be just right. She's a clever song writer and her career could well be interesting.

Shaun Mather
September 2004.



Reprise CDW 48342 - Although this little beauty has been out for a year, it's still worth a quick review. Not a studio album as such, it's a collection of Dwight's contributions to tribute albums and soundtrack cuts. Don't worry that this might be some cheap cop-out, Dwight's number on these tributes are always among the highlights of the sets. And it doesn't matter whose music he's covering, it always sounds nothing less than 100% Pure DY.

Borrowed Love the opener, is taken from MCA's Earl Scruggs And Friends. It was an obvious collaboration with Dwight's Kentucky roots - he's bordered on this as early as his first album with Miner's Prayer. Scrugg's banjo beautifully backs high lonesome vocals. More nods to old Kentucky with his Bill Monroe tribute, Rocky Road Blues from the album Big Mon. I'd like to see Dwight work a full album with Ricky Skaggs who produced the Monroe project.

T For Texas from the Jimmie Rodgers tribute sees Yoakam strolling through an hypnotic blues riff courtesy of his long time cohort Pete Anderson. There's a neat cover of Eddy Arnold's Cattle Call from the Horse Whisperer soundtrack. From the Grateful Dead tribute album we get Truckin' which sounds like it was written for Dwight and could have featured on any of his own albums.

New San Antonio Rose sees him in western swing with Asleep At The Wheel, and it's a tremendous homage to the King of Swing, Bob Wills. Next up is his stab at the King of Jewish Country, Kinky Friedman. Rapid City, South Dakota is another that fits DY like a glove. Surely Kinky should pay Dwight back and write a crime thriller around him. Louisville is the odd one out here. Unreleased until now it's a great slab of honky tonk full of DY's nasal twang, steel, dobro, fiddle, in fact everything you associate with country music except the steer shit.

The excellent Merle Haggard tribute, Tulare Dust saw Dwight cover the beautifully sad Holding Things Together and you won't be surprised to hear that it's a killer. Final number is Mystery Train from the Elvis tribute album. He'd tackled the Elvis songbook before with Suspicious Minds and Little Sister, and the high standards are maintained with this chugger produced by Don Was.

A great compilation that allows you to get some prime Dwight without having to shell out for all the individual albums. Conversely, it might entice you to go further and pick up some of them. Any country music fan will love this, the variety is great, the musicianship always excellent and the Lanky One always sounding inspired.

Shaun Mather
August 2004.


Randy Miles:
Texas Truck

Although he's been in the business for four decades, he's not really been what you'd term "prolific" on the record front. That's a shame, as he's obviously a good songwriter with an endearing voice that drips with emotion. Three singles from this new release have already done good business in Europe, hopefully meaning that further releases will be forthcoming.

Coming from a Naval family, Randy grew up in several parts of the States and seems to have taken in influences from all around. Having tried his hand at everything from bluegrass to edgy rock, he returned to his country roots and hasn't meandered since. He moved to Texas about ten years ago and as with most Texan country singers, he's the real deal. He's no Nashville conveyor belt product, but a freewheeler who records his albums the way he wants them to sound. He takes great pride in cutting his albums live without overdubs or any, what he calls "studio voodoo". Texas Truck was actually recorded in just three days this winter, at The Barn in Gunter, Texas. There's plenty of steel and fiddle throughout, as well as a kicking beat.

All but four of the sixteen tracks were penned by Miles and they show him to be very versatile, ranging from loves songs to tales of the bottle. Of the covers, Harlan Howard's She's Gone, Gone, Gone is a great opener, a great tribute to Lefty Frizzell. Merle's Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down is a honky tonk high-stepper, with steel and guitar solos.

Self-written songs like Sing Me A Song and I'm A Drinkin' Man are top notch, but the pick of the originals for me are Rowena and The Way I Do. Both are catchy without being gimmicky, and both come with some lovely fiddle work. On Again Off Again is another great number with a beat and some canny lyrics. The only songs that did little for me were his own Jaded Lady and his cover of Johnny Cash's Ring of Fire.

This is a highly recommended album that can be bought at CD Baby www.cdbaby.com/randymiles . For further information on Randy Miles, check out his website at www.randymiles.net. If you like artists who resist the mainstream like Robbin McCoombs or Tom Armstrong, you won't regret it.

Shaun Mather
June 2004


Country Purchases - June 2004
Johnny Cash - Life - Sony (Columbia Legacy Recordings) COL 515136 2
Faron Young - Folk Songs For Country Folks - Canetoad Records CDI-005

Following on from the Love, God, Murder trilogy of a few years ago, we now get volume four in the series. With all the tracks selected by Johnny Cash just before he died, it reads like a biography. Suppertime and Country Trash deal with the childhood, followed by The Night Hank Williams Came To Town, archiving his real life Dyess experience when the Louvin's came to his small Arkansas hometown. All aspects of his life get covered from religion (I Talk TO Jesus Everyday) to love (You're The Nearest Thing To Heaven). He gives a reminder of his rowdy days (I'm Ragged But I'm Right) and reassures us that I'm Alright Now. We pay homage to Ira Hayes and the working man (Oney). Fittingly, he wrote his one obituary and walked away into the moonlight to meet June with his final choice, Lead Me Gently Home. A beautifully constructed tribute to his own Life, with some powerful music to boot. Johnny, you was de man.

The Faron compilation features three of his earliest Mercury albums, This Is Faron (1963), Story Songs For Country Folks (1963) and Unmitigated Gall (1968). It's great value for money with thirty tracks running at over 75 minutes. Sounding equally home in both the country and vein surroundings, Faron always sounds like he's having a good time. Who wouldn't have a good time if you were being backed by the cream of Nashville's pickers, men like Grady Martin, Ray Edenton, Pete Drake, Lloyd Green, Bob Moore, Buddy Harman, Hargus Pig Robbins and Charlie McCoy, all rounded off with the smoothness of the Jordanaires. The Story Songs For Country Folks album is a particular classic with great songs in the form of Sawmill and Rhinestones. The whole CD is littered with great songs like The Yellow Bandana and Unmitigated Gall - buy this with confidence.

Shaun Mather
June 2004.


Merle Haggard:
Someday We'll Look Back
I Love Dixie Blues ...
So I Recorded Live In New Orleans

Beat Goes On - BGOCD596

This latest Merle Haggard twofer from the Beat Goes On label couples two totally contrasting albums from the early '70s. Someday We'll Look Back from 1971 is vintage Hag with stone cold country killers like Tulare Dust, whilst 1973's I Love Dixie Blues ... So I Recorded Live In New Orleans sees the Strangers joined by the horn trio, Dixieland Express.

Someday We'll Look Back is a classic and ranks up there with Merle's best. As he sings in the title song "someday we'll look back, and say it was fun". Well it sure is now that we're given the opportunity to revisit. As you can imagine though, it's not all fun. Hag's best tracks aren't exactly sing-a-longs, but realistic tales of hardship and remorse. Classics abound through this marvellous set, with California Cottonfields and train of Life being standout covers. His co-write with Red Simpson, Huntsville is a haunting prison song is pure Hag and the steel on I'd Rather Be Gone is as lonesome as the vocals.

The live album from New Orleans never less than interesting but isn't in the same "must have" category as Someday. There's a good energy about the performances and it was obviously a labour of love, with things like Lovesick Blues and Big Bad Bill sounding particularly vibrant. Tommy Collins' wonderful Carolyn is heard on both albums with the live version being great and the studio version being a vital component of the Haggard canon.

Another worthy addition to the Merle collection, with one classic and one nice to have item. Buy with confidence, and look forward to the next set of reissues. The only downside that should be mentioned is the sleeve notes which simply retread old ground. We all know the Haggard life story, what we want is a detailed look at these two particular albums, along the line of the stuff that Rich Keinzle writes for the Waylon twofers.

Shaun Mather
March 2004


Hot Club of Cowtown,
Continental Stomp

Hightone HCD8163

I've been aware of the Hot Club of Cowtown since Country Music People enthused over their debut album Swingin' Stampede back in 1996. I've never heard them though and was pleasantly surprised that they were scheduled to back the Mavericks at their St David's Hall gig in Cardiff this week. To a sold out crowd they wondered on stage unannounced and proceeded to win the hearts of the audience. A quick glance at their website's message board indicates that they've made many new fans here in the UK. I picked up this CD, their 5th for the Hightone label during the interval, and they seemed to be shifting loads of copies.

When the band formed in San Diego in 1996 they were just a duo, violinist Elana Fremerman and guitarist Whit Smith sharing the vocal duties. They moved to Austin, Texas and added a doghouse bass to the equation. Their sound is a mix of western swing and acoustic jazz, and as such they have a unique sound. Both Smith and Fremerman sing in an understated manner that totally fits the music, with Fremerman sounded suitably foxy in a late-night, candle-lit way. I suppose she sounds like Marilyn Monroe in tune. As musicians, the trio are all exceptional, she's a classically trained violinist who can mix style and stomp to perfection. Smith is a fluent fllet-fingered fella whose 1925 Gibson L-5 gives off a beautiful tone through his 1938 Gibson amplifier. Jake Erwin is equally adept on the bass, he has to really play it - when you're playing in such a style as theirs, everyone is heard and to just thump away on the bas wouldn't sound right.

Their latest release is a live recording from the famed Continental Club in Austin, and is produced to perfection by the great Lloyd Maines. Imagine what a legend he'd be if he worked in Nashville - thank God he doesn't. All tracks on this CD are covers, including a great instrumental treatment of Orange Blossom Special. Also from the golden years of country music's past comes Ida Red.

Whit Smith is an engaging vocalist and he shines on The Girl I Left Behind, Chinatown and My Window Faces The South. Perhaps best of all is his reading of the standard Pennies From Heaven. With all due respect to Smith, the voice of Elana is the group's real coupe, it's both hot and vulnerable all at once and down right superb. Her numbers here like I Can't Believe You're In Love With Me, Exactly Like You and I Can't Give You Anything But Love are great.

There's a hidden fourteenth track. It's a fun little ditty about losing the pussy and is worthy of being mentioned, but if it's hidden what's the point. I've actually found a photo of the pussy and have got a photo of it to go with the review. But in keeping with the hidden track, I've included the hidden photo.

Buy this with confidence, then go see them live. I'm off to get their earlier albums.

Shaun Mather


Willie Nelson and Ray Price
Run That By Me One More Time

Lost Highway B000061602

Nowadays any collaboration of superstars is celebrated with trumpets and a non-stop media deluge, usually resulting in a level of anticipation that ends in disappointment. There's no sign of that disappointment here though, this little nugget crept out to little fanfare, despite Willie's current high profile thanks to his recent number one duet with Toby Keith. No doubt this album will stay well away from the charts - a shame because it's a beauty. Unlike their previous duet album, 1980's San Antonio Rose which featured all covers, this time they mix some well chosen covers with some top-notch originals. Whilst Willie seems to bring out a new album every other week, Price has been a bit more selective. His Time album was one of the best releases of 2002, and his rugged voice sounds equally good here. Recorded at the World Headquarters studios in Luck, TX it was produced by Nelson and Price, and they've created a album which is loose without being ragged.

With voices as craggy as their faces they kick off proceedings with the classic Deep Water and This Cold War With You which they'd tackled before. Best songs on the album are probably the lesser known numbers like is Price's own Soft Rain which is classic Price. Neither singer has sounded better - and that's saying something! I'm Still Not Over You from Willie's pen is another beauty, with great vocals and tasty picking from Willie and fiddle player Bobby Floores.

There's a slight bluegrass feel to the title track, not a sound you associate with either singer but it works like a treat. I actually prefer this album to the San Antonio Rose collaboration and it's is one of the best duet albums of Willie's illustrious career. Special mention to Bobby Fllores and David Zettner who's fiddle and steel work is enlightening throughout. ** * * *

Shaun Mather
September 2003


Brad Paisley
Mud On The Tires

Arista 82876-50605-2

I'm a big fan of this guy and really loved his first two albums. I've got a few reservations about this third one though. I wonder if he's trying to cover too many angles. You can't fault his desire to create a fully rounded album that recreates the various strains of country's history - perhaps he should have just done it over a couple of albums. Also, I don't think there's a killer track to compare with something like I'm Gonna Miss Her (The Fishin' Song).

Don't get me wrong, it's still a good album with plenty of hot picking from Paisley and a band that's as tight as a virgin. Listen to the title track for proof. There's a couple of novelty items in Celebrity and Famous People that'll no doubt do well in the singles charts.

Ain't Nothin' Like is cute and sounds like a cross between the family songs of Bobby Bare and Tom T Hall. I can see people either loving or hating this one. Another in the same bracket is Spaghetti Western which teams him with Bill Anderson, Little Jimmy Dickens and Goerge Jones. In years to come, when George has moved to the other side, I wonder if Brad will look back at the time he shared studio space with the Possum and think, man what a wasted opportunity.

Two highlights are the bluegrass number The Best Thing I Had Goin' and Whiskey Lullaby, a duet with Alison Krauss. It's a harrowing tale of wasted love and life which sees Paisley and Krauss bring out the best in one another. Probably not what country radio is looking for, but a great piece of work nonetheless. As with the second album, the closer is a gospel number, this time a fine cover of Farther Along.

A goodish album, but he needs to be weary next time out. I know his interests are purely country not pop, but another one like this would soon wear thin with his fans. We await with interest. * * *

Shaun Mather
September 2003


Dwight Yoakam
Population Me

Audium AUD-CD-8176
Over the years Dwight has carried the California country torch, and this album is full of tracks that could only have come out of CA, not TN. An Exception To The Rule being a perfect example, it's in the Gram Parsons mould. One of the states biggest stars, and hero of DY is Buck Owens. The Skinny One gives a nod towards Buck with No Such Thing that could have come from any one of Buck's mid-60's albums. In the same vein is the albums opener, The Late Great Golden State, a brilliant number that fuses bluegrass with '70s Eagles style country (witness the backing vocals). Anyone wondering if Dwight might be going through the motions after all these years, has that doubt quashed within two minutes.

The title track is a strange, dark depressing number, that mixes banjos and brass effectively. I could imagine non-believers pulling their teeth out with the thought of the "whining Dwight" dueting with the "distinct Willie Nelson", but for fans the prospect was mouth watering. Their collaboration, If Teardrops Were Diamonds is beautiful and finishes too soon, despite it's three and a half minute run. Fair to Midland is a clever dittie with Gary Morse playing a lovely backdrop for Dwight to pain-sing in his own inimitable style. The number would have sat superbly on his If There Was A Way album of yesteryear - a fine performance.

Uptempo feel-gooders include Stayin' Up Late and a great cover of Burt Bacharach's Trains and Boats and Planes which benefits from the crystal clear picking of the legendary Earl Scruggs. With long-time cohort Pete Anderson on mandolin and Scott Joss's fiddle added to the mix it's a real treasure. I'd Avoid Me Too sees Anderson playing a low-down blues-boogie figure whilst our measure of Kentucky straight up and down whails in his best hillbilly twang. Pure Dwight, the type of thing that kicked us in the guts twenty years earlier.

So basically Dwight's done it again. I know we've heard most the styles and rhythms before, but there ain't nothing wrong with that and the couple of surprises he throws in are great as well. Hank never changed and we still love him. Dwight - you still da man.

Shaun Mather
August 2003


Dale Watson
One More Once More

Continental Song City - CSCCD 1033
Billed as Dale Watson's Honky Tonk Swing album, it failed to spark anything between my ears on first listen. Perhaps I just wasn't in the mood for it, it left me cold and just seemed as though he was going through the motions. Now we all know that he doesn't just go through the motions, he's passionate about his music and wouldn't sell out if his life depended on it. So it was with relatively little optimism that I put it in the player for a second listen. Well, I certainly enjoyed it more second go round, although it still doesn't excite me like Nashville Rash or Round Rock Texas. In the sleeeve notes he says it's his vision of what Dean Martin might have sounded like if he'd recorded with Bob Wills. To me though it sounds more like what Nat King Cole would have sounded like if Jack Clement would have recorded him with Perry Como - what? You listen!

The band are fine, the playing is spot on with Floyd Domino's piano sounding as perfect as we'd expect. Dale handles the vocal chores expertly, the only thing that's missing is the odd uptempo number. Cupid is rapid, but lacks any fire power. Songs like 6 Days and San Antone are just too insipid for me, although I think he does a beautiful job on Do You. Also on the negative side, Watson is listed as the writer of all the tracks. I'm sure some fella called Hank wrote You Win Again!

My favourite on the album is Wagon, where the twangy guitar and drums put some meat on the bones. I'm sure it's a one-off album, I hope so. He's fine, the band are fine, but the whole thing just doesn't really add up to much. I'm sure others will disagree, we've all get our own set of ears. Now he's got his project off his chest, let's look forward to another helping of Texas bar room honky tonk, done as only Dale Watson can.

Shaun Mather
June 2003



It's thirty years ago this month since Charlie Rich finally found his deserved place at the top of the charts. He was an eclectic performer who somehow kept failing to score with the public, despite a body of material that lacked neither variety or quality. The saddest thing about it all, thirty years on, is that no one gives a damn about him or his music. His influence is never cited and the big hits that he did enjoy in the 70's are seen by many as him selling out. Looking back that seems mighty unfair. His sang his songs in a bluesy, jazzy, soulful manor - it was his natural sound. He'd have been selling out if he'd started singing like Waylon or George Jones, because that would have seen him changing his style to meet a sound that went against his grain. Why are Ray Charles' country albums thought of in such glowing light, whilst Charlie's are overlooked. What's the different. Neither of them sound like Lefty Frizzell, both of them sing through their souls, they portray their whole being not just their vocal chords. Country is an honest music, and country performances don't come any more personal and honest than Charlie Rich singing something like Life's Little Ups And Downs.

Charlie Rich was singed by Epic in 1967 mainly because of the prompting of the label's top producer, Billy Sherrill. It should have been a marriage made in heaven, and artistically it was. But record companies are only interested in the bottom line and apart from a couple of minor country hits, Nice 'n' Easy in 1970 and A Part Of Your Life two years later, things hadn't really happened. Charlie himself had said "at times we never thought it would happen." Let's face it, if Life's Little Ups And Downs couldn't hit, you'd soon get the feeling that it was never going to happen. That's how Epic felt, and against Billy Sherrill's wishes they were preparing to let Charlie go. Then out of the blue he hit the top 10 with Kenny O'Dell's I Take It On Home, a lovely ballad that captured the natural sound of Charlie Rich.

The success coincided with the appointment of Billy Williams as the new head of promotion for Epic. Like Sherrill, he also recognised the talent and felt that with the right PR, Charlie could be as big as anyone. Such were his convictions that he persuaded Epic to offer a million dollars to any song-writer who could come up with a killer song for their man.

Kenny O'Dell was again that man. As soon as he played Behind Closed Doors for Rich, Sherrill and Williams, they all believed that the golden nugget had been found. On November 12th 1972 they cut the song in Nashville. The single was released a couple of months later and by March had entered the country charts. By the end of April 1973 it was at number one, eventually spending over 40 weeks on the charts. In June it broke into the pop charts where it climbed into the top 20, peaking at number 15.

"The success of Behind Closed Doors certainly changed things for me. It took me out of the bar-rooms to the large supper clubs and concert halls and gave me a faith in my music that I sometimes had lacked", said Charlie. This new found fame sat uneasily on his shoulders though. Allegedly, the night after it hit the top spot, maybe sensing the new life he would now be forced to lead, he said on stage, "You know, I've got to be crazy being here when I could be home sitting on the creek bank, fishing with my littlest boy, Jack".

The change to bigger auditoriums did bring problems for the generally shy man, with some of the early shows being particularly unhappy affairs. This was highlighted by a Spokane, Washington concert where he tackled an inadequate sound system with a cold and an out-of-tune piano. Being a sensitive soul, he was devastated by the unaware critic who wrote of the performance, "Rich did not convey a willingness to entertain. He didn't even try".

The Silver Fox was no longer behind closed doors, they'd been well and truly kicked open and he was now public domain. The follow-up single, The Most Beautiful Girl became an even bigger world smash. When the CMA awards rolled around, Charlie Rich won Best Male Vocalist, Best Single for Behind Closed Doors and Best Album for the same. To round off a great night, O'Dell won the Best Song Award for Songwriters. At the Grammy's O'Dell was a winner whilst Charlie won his own Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance.

The magic formula worked for the next half decade but by the end of the decade, both Charlie and the songs seemed stale, and he seemed to be going through the motions a bit. Like most geniuses, he was better when left to his own devices. His style was always hard to pin down because he dabbled with sounds and styles that moved him. By the late 70's this wasn't the case, he was going into the studio knowing that he was tied to cutting in the same country mould. A listen to his last album, Pictures and Paintings said more about Charlie Rich, the man and the music than albums like Rollin' With the Flow and The Fool Strikes Again ever did.

So why isn't Charlie Rich remembered today. A book from Peter Gauralnick wouldn't go amiss, perhaps that might remind people of his talent. I think one thing that went against him was the timing - at the time he was scoring with a countrypolitan nature to his work, the Outlaw movement was in full swing. I'm sure his jazz-snobbery doesn't want him to be remembered as a country singer anyway. But surely his country work should be appreciated, even if he's ultimately (and rightly) remembered for his varied body of work as a whole. Just so long as he's remembered.

Shortly after Charlie hit big, Kris Kristofferson said, "I was afraid that he was going to be one of those people who never seen to become well-known until after he dies; and then the people all start talking about how great he was". How way-off the mark was Kris. Since he's died, hardly anybody talks about how great he was. It can't be a coincidence that two people who still remember him fondly are his producers Sam Phillips and Billy Sherrill. On the fabulous double CD, Feel Like Going Home - The Essential Charlie Rich they summed him up thus;

Billy Sherrill - "Charlie Rich was the best. His talent and style knew no boundaries. After years of being the victim of stereotypical critics who could neither understand nor label him, Charlie's beautiful, haunting voice, surrounded by his piano, was discovered by the world. I'm just glad I was around for the ride."

Sam Phillips - "If Charlie's ambitions had been what most people's are, there's no doubt in my mind that he would have been an even bigger star than he was. Charlie Rich was also one of the most unassuming men I've ever known; his whole ambition was to say with his piano what he wouldn't necessarily say directly to your face. I never knew a more talented musician than Charlie Rich." And as only Sam can, he summed him up with one sentence, "His music was truly the embodiment of the man."

Shaun Mather Shaun.Mather@btinternet.com
May 2003


The Wurlitzer Prize (We Don't Want To Get Over You)
Rockabilly Hall Records - RHoF1

With the recent release of the Waylon Jennings tribute album, Lonesome, Onry & Mean, I thought it would be fun to come up with a fantasy tribute album. Obviously plenty of Waylon songs have been covered over the years, but I'm not looking at those. I'm just dreaming of songs I'd have liked to have seen covered, by some of my favourite artists.

There's a few that didn't quite make the cut, like Oklahoma Sunshine by Bobby Bare and Jerry Reed, or Stop The World And Let Me Off by The Blasters, but perhaps record label boss Bob Timmers might allow a second volume if sales of this one are good. Anyway, this is what I'd like to see selling millions at your local HMV.

Bob Wills Is Still The King - Ray Price - Waylon's tribute to fellow Texan legend Bob Wills was recorded live at Western Place in Dallas on 25th September 1974. It was released on the Dreaming My Dreams album and was also the b-side of the hit single, Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way. The man to cover this is Ray Price, with the same studio band he used for 2002's brilliant Time album. Price is an acknowledged fan of Wills, even cutting a tribute album, San Antonio Rose in the early 60's. But the Time band could waltz through Waylon's opus. The refrain where the western swing sound of Wills is adopted would give Rob Hajocas plenty of elbow room and Buddy Emmons would relish filling the boots of Ralph Mooney. The old-time A-team would cream this. An alternative would have been for Price to cut A Couple More Years from 1976s' Are You Ready For The Country. This Shel Silverstein-Doctor Hook waltz has Ray Price written all over it. Anyway, Bob Wills Is Still The King it is and this album is off and running.

Only Daddy That'll Walk The Line - Rodney Crowell and Marty Stuart - This number 2 country hit for Waylon in the summer of 1968 saw him giving a gentle nod to the sound of his room-mate and hell-raising runaround buddy Johnny Cash. The adaptation here would take a head-on boom-chicka-boom approach, with the Man in Black territory being breached by one time Cash son-in-laws, Rodney Crowell and Marty Stuart. Both men have walked that line before - Stuart did a great version of Cry, Cry, Cry a few years ago whilst Crowell's Walk The Line Revisited was the best single to come out of Nashville for many a year. Rodney also had the distinction of having Waylon cut a couple of his songs, Old Love New Eyes and a powerhouse version of I Ain't Living Long Like This in 1979. Perhaps they could even persuade Johnny to make a cameo appearance, he may even do Charlie McCoy's harmonica slot. This powerhouse rendition would be way to good to get radio air-play.

She's Looking Good - Elvis Presley - Another number from the Dreaming My Dreams album, this one scribed by country music veteran Autry Inman. This would have been ideal fodder for the 70's Elvis Presley at a time when Elvis was reflecting on his life and in particular his failed marriage to Priscilla, Queen of the Estate. He was aching aloud with love items like Separate Ways and Always On My Mind. Waylon and Elvis were fairly unique in that they both recorded with their road band, and spend hours re-mixing and looking at the clock on the wall. The recording process was a social event, playing for fun, knowing when the right groove was being hit. When Elvis sang about tortures and suspicion he was at his most powerful and soulful and lines like "she's looking good, and I'm afraid she'll find what she's looking for" would have pulled all the Kings right strings. It'd be so good we wouldn't even need JKL to add a dance beat to it. The Wurlitzer Prize (I Don't Want To Get Over You) - Lefty Frizzell and Alan Jackson - Waylon recorded this fabulous Chips Moman-Bobby Emmons track, the day before Elvis died. It's a honky tonk classic and would be perfect to of the honky tonk greats, past and present. Nobody argues the fact that Lefty was a genius, and neither should Alan Jackson be overlooked. If you're not convinced, take a listen to tracks like Tonight I Climbed The Wall, Once You've Had The Best or Farewell Party. A listen to his Good Year For The Roses duet with George Jones proves that he isn't intimidated by legends. Obviously he won't get to meet Lefty though! It'll have to be like the Three Hanks project. It doesn't matter who the band is, with two singers like these, who'll be listening to a guitar.

Rainy Day Woman - Buck Owens and Dwight Yoakam - Waylon had himself covered Buck, cutting Under Your Spell Again with Jessi Colter in 1971. It wouldn't take a rocket scientist to work out what the Buckersfield sound of Buck and Dwight would sound like covering Waylon on an uptempo number like Rainy Day Woman. Waylon's 1974 version which stopped one place short of the top spot, is driven with growling guitar and some inspired playing from Mooney. Pete Anderson would give Buck and Dwight all the twang they needed while they wailed away out front. This version would be one of this albums highlights, prompting people to dig out Waylon's version - and finding him a new legion of fans.

Sweet Dream Woman - Charlie Rich - \Waylon cut his original of this in 1972, a time when Charlie Rich was on the verge of becoming the next big thing. He would have cut his version of this at that time, at the same session that he cut I Take It On Home. The song is a versatile love song and whilst Waylon's voice was gritty with rough edges, the song would lose none of it's power when done by Charlie. If anything, his relaxed, laid back sound would give the lyrics even more impetus. Charlie was using the Jordannaires or Nashville Edition on backing vocals at this time, either one would have the desired effect here. If he didn't want to do this, I reckon Charlie would have made a great job of Cedartown, Georgia.

The Hunger - George Jones - The world's second greatest living country singer (after JLL I reckon) during his darkest, most messed-up but most productive 70's period would slay this song. The Possum was at the top of his game, emotion dripping from every syllable. I love the depth and survival sound he now has, but in the 70's he was perfect. Billy Sherrill would produce this cut, adding just a delicate layer of backing vocals from Millie Kirkham, and the same amount of strings that Waylon employed. Perhaps Jack Clement should be in the studio as well, to make sure Sherrill doesn't go over the top.

I Can't Keep My Hands Off Of You - Jerry Lee Lewis - I know I've gone on about this song on the Mack Vickery page, but I make no apologies. This is one of my favourite all-time songs, I think it's beautiful and it always sends a tingle down my spine. Can you imagine the worlds greatest entertainer cutting this. Jerry Lee Lewis eats songs like this. He's got that lived-in, lucked-out voice that would just smoulder through this material. This wouldn't come out as some cheesy love song. The song's so good it wouldn't even need any piano gymnastics from the Killer. The only change this new version will have is some crying fiddle from Jerry Lee's Lonesome Fiddle Man, Kenny Lovelace, taking the place of Ralph Mooney's steel on the original. Although he's best known for his guitar work for the Memphis Beats, Kenny's fiddle playing is as delicate and moving as any in country music, and therefore the steel, which was such an integral part of Waylon's original, need not be missed. The stunning thing about the Killer's version here is that it's going to take him back to the top of the country charts. The good work that the O Brother CD started, will bear fruition when people hear the Killer here and start digging out his Mercury recordings, then delve deeper into the real country sounds that take away the bitter taste of Nashradio. Anyway, back to reality....

<>Amanda - Everly Brothers - It doesn't really matter what decade the Everly's cut this in. Their harmony (vocally!!) has been immaculate since they started. Waylon cut this Bob McDill ballad in the summer of 1974, so I suppose the Ev's should cut it after that! Let's say then that they cut this version for their comeback album a full years after Waylons. For me the comeback lacked great songs, but things like Paul Kennerleys The First In Line showed that with quality material they could still cut the mustard. With Dave Edmunds in the producers chair, he could also step forward to share guitar duties with Albert Lee. Don's got a great voice for the verses, and Phil will sound heavenly on the high harmonies. Beautiful, so why haven't they recorded for nearly twenty years. It's an absolute crime that we've been denied albums from the likes of the Ev's, Jerry Lee and Jack Scott.

I Ain't Living Long Like This - Hank Williams III and Wayne Hancock - This rocker was the lead-off song on Waylon's What Goes Around Comes Around album. Whilst his version was great, this update would see the electric bass being benched, replaced by the greatest relief pitcher in history, the double bass. The bass of Mark Winchester would come bouncing in and set the tone for the next four minutes. Lisa Pankratz on drums would keep a hard driving rockabilly beat, sort of like an updated speed-charged version of Lefty Frizzells' Jsut Can't Live That Fast Anymore. Hank III and Wayne The Train are blood brothers, amigos like Willie and Waylon. They don't care whether they live long or not, so long as they have a good time while they're here. This version wouldn't be for the faint hearted, especially when Eddie Angel steps in for the blistering mother of all solos. Hell, his guitar ain't living long like this, flames would be flying off it before the bad boys came back in. What a way to end an album. Getting someone to finance this thing might be tricky, getting them get Elvis in the studio would be even harder. There's no harm in me Dreaming My Dreams.

Shaun Mather
May 2003



Sony - Lucky Dog CK86873

Now this is fairly disappointing after some of their previous efforts. I was really looking forward to this. I think Full Western Dress was the best album Buck Owens nearly made. I know Here Come The Derailers from two years ago had plenty of bad press but I enjoyed it, and hoped this latest would be more of the same. Unfortunately it sees the band trying too hard to merge country music with the Beatles. Far from full western dress, they've even got themselves all dolled up in suits with fluffy haircuts. Country radio needs a Buck shot, but it certainly isn't short of a pop supply.

That's not to say the whole album is poor. There's some good songs like the opener, The Way To My Heart, Boomerang Heart and my favourite on the album, Alone With You. Take It Back has some nice fiddle and Don Rich like guitar, and Tony Villanueva sounds amazingly close to the pride of Bakersfield. But there are nearly as many duffers. I hated the Fab Four tones title song, Genuine. And if Leave A Message, Juanita or Scratch My Itch (rubbish!!) were to become hits (I doubt it though!), Paul McCartney will be suing for royalties. The band dedicate the album to Harlan Howard, Waylon Jennings and George Harrison, but it's pretty much only Harrison whose influence can be heard in the music.

I don't know what to make of the CD. All in all a pretty mixed bag, it'll be interesting to see if this album proves more popular with fans and critics, as well as the all important one, radio. If radio chooses to ignore it, it certainly won't be because it's too country!!

Shaun Mather
April 2003




Red Foley has the sales figures to be a household name, but in reality he's now a virtual unknown. He made history by being the first country singer to record in Nashville and was the first to use the Jordanaires in a country music context. But have you ever heard a singer in the last thirty years who cites Foley as an influence? I know he ain't Hank, but there's more to him than just being Pat Boone's father-in-law. It may be because his most famous song is perhaps Old Shep, where in reality his best work is up-tempo hillbilly boogie.

Proper Music have again produced the goods with this double CD, covering the years between 1944 and 1951. By '44, if not a veteran, he had certainly paid some dues. He was three years into his Decca contract when Smoke On The Water started a thirteen week run at the top of the country charts. At this time he was recording in Chicago, where the first 11 tracks of this compilation were cut. It was in 1945 that he made his historic Nashville recordings, starting a trend that has led to a massive industry emanating from the city. The name Nashville is now synonymous with country music.

The generous 52 tracks on offer allows us to hear more than the hits. Proper has chosen well and as well as hits like "Smoke on the Water," "Old Shep," "Tennessee Saturday Night," "Chattanooga Shoe Shine Boy," and "Peace in the Valley" there's transcription tapes which give us a feeling for the live sound Foley had at the time. Other highlights of the set include Foggy River from a 1948 Louisiana Hayride appearance.

Even better are a quartet of tracks from the Grand Ole Opry. The lively guitar-fuelled Home In San Antone and Thinking Of The One I Love come from 25 November 1950 whilst the upbeat novelty of Giles County and the mournful No One To Cry To come from the following October. A feature of the whole compilation is the hot guitar picking that livens up Foley's hot hillbilly boogie.

From left,Red Foley, Little Jimmy Dickens, Minnie Pearl and Hank Williams arrive in Europe.

The session with the Jordanaires was on 8 November 1949 and included three gospel numbers. Just A Closer Walk With Thee is brilliant with Foley on top form and the Jordanaires have never sounded blacker, they are sublime here. When God Dips His Love In My Heart is more laid back whilst Steal Away is what can best be described as tacky. It's like Old Shep got religion.

With extensive sleeve notes from Adam Komorowski and selling at Proper's usual low price, this is a highly recommended collection.

Shaun Mather



Westside WESA 921

1. Yellow bandana 2. Nightmare 3. We've got something in common 4. You'll drive me back (into her arms again) 5. Keeping up with the Jones' 6. My friend on the night 7. Walk tall 8. My dreams 9. Unmitogated gall 10. Wonderful world of women 11. She went a little bit farther 12. I just came to get my baby 13. Wine me up 14. Your time's comin' 15. Occasional wife 16. If I ever fall in love (with a honky tonk girl) 17. Goin' steady 18. Step aside 19. Leavin' and saying goodye 20. It's four in the morning 21. This little girl of mine 22. Just what I had in mind 23. Some kind of a woman 24. Here I am in Dallas

1963 was a big year for Faron Young. That year, together with Preston Temple, he launched one of the most influential country music magazines, Music City News, a brave and unusual move for a singer to undertake at that time. It was also the year he ended his ten year association with Capitol and joined the Mercury label. Under the auspices of Shelby Singleton they were putting a concerted effort into boosting their country division, especially after the recent void left with the departure of George Jones. Young was currently riding high with recent hits like Hello Walls and was a big loss for Capitol, who were unable to match the attractive offer Mercury made him.

Although Young stayed with Mercury until 1979, this collection looks at his successful releases between '63 and '75. Every one of the 24 tracks here made the country top 20, and despite a few years where he tossed his cowboy hat into the countrypolitan ring, it's strong country all the way. Thankfully, the use of strings on some numbers does little to hide the voice which is country to the core.

His debut single for his new label was The Yellow Bandana, the sort of western Marty Robbins was mastering by this time - does anyone know if that's Grady Martin on guitar? His co-write with Jan Crutchfield, We've Got Something In Common, is Hello Walls revisited with Faron talking to the household items around him.

He adopts the Ray Price shuffle for the stone country You'll Drive Me Back with Faron and the steel player on top form. The 60's were a great time for male and female country duos and Faron and Margie Singleton are as good as any with their number 5 hit, Keeping Up With The Joneses, penned by the product of some Ernest bedroom activity, Justin Tubb. My Friend On The Right tells a sorry tale of his love running off with his mate, the memories stirred by an old photograph.

Walk Tall is given the full Nashpop backing and is a fine alternative for those who like the song but don't want to buy a Val Doonigan CD! My Dreams and Mel Tillis' Unmitigated Gall are more of the same, and are further fine examples of the Nashville Sound. The sound shouldn't be snarled at, it was popular because it was good, and most of the recordings have stood the test of time well. I really enjoyed The Wonderful World of Women, a fun ditty written by Eddie Miller, Bobby Sykes and one of country's greatest writers, Wayne Walker.

It's Price-time again with She Went A Little Bit Farther from Merle Kilgore and one of the best, Mack Vickery. To be honest, the song is okay but all involved have better CV material. Another stellar writer, Wayne Kemp provides the excellent I Just Came To Get My Baby, whilst the mind-blowing combination of Kris Kristofferson and Shel Silvertstein put the womaniser straight with the lyrically splendid, Your Time's Comin'. "I knew she belonged to someone else at the time, but lonely looking women are a weakness of mine".

Wine Me Up climbed to within one place of the top spot in 1969, and would be perfect fodder for someone like BR549 to cover. The early 70's saw the high standards maintained with Occasional Girl, Tom T Hall's If I Ever Fall In Love (With A Honky Tonk Girl) and Step Aside. His artistic and commercial success reached its zenith in 1971 with Jerry Chesnutt's fabulous waltzer, It's Four In The Morning. As well as topping the charts in the States, it became a top 3 hit in the UK, and in the process earned its place on every country themed K-Tel album made thereafter.

Things remained positive in his career, but the follow-ups to Four In The Morning were nowhere near as successful. Hits like This Little Girl Of Mine (shades of Kristofferson) and Just What I Had In Mind were aimed at the same audience, it's just that fewer of them felt inclined to dip their hands in their jeans to buy that 7" of vinyl. The set closes in fine style with Here I Am In Dallas. It's a long way from I've Got Five Dollars And It's Saturday Night, sounding more like newly emerging Outlaw sound of Waylon Jennings. It's got the same funky country feel of the Waylors and even talks about uprooting from Nashville, headed for Texas.

His association with Mercury sort of fizzled out, and for all intents and purposes, his glory days were over. Sadly, Faron isn't with us today, but his music is, and this 24 track overview of his Mercury period is a fine memorial to the Sheriff.

Shaun Mather
March 2003


George Strait / Live in Houston

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo has been held at the historic Houston Astrodome for 37 years. That's as long as I've been breathing and as long as the Superbowl has been played for. Now though, it's days are numbered. (Hopefully the same isn't true for myself or the football game!) A fitting finale for the massive stadium was a show by George Strait, which MCA had the good presence of mind to record and release as the first ever live Strait album. The crowd of 68,266 got a bit of a longer show than we get here, but at five minutes short of an hour, this CD certainly gives us a taste of the party spirit.

Getting the mix right on a live album is so important, you don't want to drown out the band and singer with whoops and hollers, but conversely, you don't want the crowd inaudible. The balance is spot on here with the crowd wild between songs but softened out for the music.

The album kicks into life with George's Ace In The Hole Band swinging through Deep In The Heart Of Texas. From there we're whisked from one classic to another. Half of the 16 tracks were number 1 singles, and feature a mixture of the reasonably new and some anthems from the back catalogue. When you hear him move effortlessly through the likes of Amarillo By Morning (some beautiful singing and fiddle work), The Fireman and The Chair, it's easy to understand how he's piled up the awards and gold records.

There's three songs from his most recent studio album, 2001's Road Less Traveled, the highlight probably being She'll Leave You With A Smile, his 50th number one in the country charts. Also from more recent times is the dig at Nashville's sweet-swill products, Murder On Music Row. Without duet partner Alan Jackson around, George sang both parts, "I think I can remember his part" he jokes. He doesn't say a lot on stage, but he reminisces about his break at the Rodeo, "'It really does seem like only yesterday when the late great Eddie Rabbitt got sick that night,' said Strait. 'They called me and I'd just got in from a tour. They said, 'Can you be at the Houston Astrodome to play at the rodeo in about two hours?' and I said, 'Hmm... This has got to be a joke.' I managed to get a hold of everybody and they put us on an airplane and flew us up here. What a night that was and it's been great ever since.'

The guy's got class, witnessed by him closing the show with a stunning version of The Cowboy Rides Away, a fitting way to finish the album and an era in Texas history. I wonder whether MCA will record him on February 25, 2003 when he appears at the opening ceremonies of the 'Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo' in its brand new home, the newly built Reliant Stadium. He promises it to be an even bigger party, so it should be worth capturing.

Shaun Mather
February 2003


Willie Nelson & Friends
Stars & Guitars

Lost Highway 0881 703402

There was a time when Willie Nelson stood for everything that was good about country music. Nowadays though, his work, though prolific, is very uneven. He records in no end of musical styles (sometimes smacking of self-indulgance), leaving the fans having to be careful before buying the right release to tickle their fancy. Recent efforts like Teatro and The Great Divide really left me really cold, whilst something like Me And The Drummer sounded like the Willie I love.

What I thought may have been a problem for this album was that Willie might try to cross too many musical boundaries in one go, but thankfully he pretty much sticks within the country idiom. Some of the chosen duet partners are a problem though, with one or two of them too far removed from the sound to come over convincingly. Bon Jovi sounds crap on Always On My Mind, I suppose he needs the band up loud to drown out the vocals a bit. Ryan Adams has never grabbed my attention either and his two contributions here do little to change that. Hank Williams III joins Willie the First and Ryan the Plain on the Stones' Dead Flowers, but Hank is fairly low in the mix.

The duet with singing/songwriting/folkie Patty Griffin, Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground is taken at pedestrian pace, and lacks all the mystical beauty of Willie's original. It's my favourite Nelson song, but is a real clunker here, as is the crucifiction of Mama Don't Let Your Babies Grow up To Be Cowboys. Matchbox Twenty give the song nothing and show that even a classic can be spoilt in the wrong hands.

The album does have are some brilliant moments, like Night Life with compadre Ray Price, Mendocino County Line with Lee Ann Womack and Toby Keith steps into the spotlight on Good Hearted Woman, sounding like a natural partner for Willie - shades of Waylon. Vince Gill sometimes sounds a bit too idylic and sugary for me, but he's really well suited to Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain and helps turn in one of the nights best performances. Aaron Neville is excellent as always with a version of Stardust that almost turns into a parody.

There's some so-so moments as well, the band outshining Sheryl Crow on Whiskey River, whilst jazz singer Norah Jones sounds nice but uninspiring on Lonestar. The last couple of tracks feature just Willie and his touring band it should come as no surprise that On The Road Again and Move It On Over are among the albums most natural and best efforts.

So all in all, it's a pretty good album, that could have been a lot worse, but conversely could have benefitted from a better choice of partner.

Shaun Mather
December 2002


Jim Reeves
RCA Country Legends

RCA/BMG Heritage 07863 65100 2
Latest hot platter in the BMG Heritage series, RCA Country Legends features the man with the velvet voice, Jim Reeves. A bit stingy at only sixteen tracks, but the sound quality and the packaging are spot-on. Rich Kienzle provides his usual informative notes and it's always nice to have a sessionography included. The quality of the material goes without saying, Reeves was one of the finest singers in country music history. Even if the Nashville Sound is a bit sweet for you, there's other delights here like the 2 Abbott singles Mexican Joe and Bimbo, both of which reached number 1 on the country charts in 1953. These Shreveport tracks from the dawn of his career feature plenty of sawing fiddle and steel.

The pre-Four Walls tracks are more hillbilly than the masses would associate with Reeves with Tommy Jackson and Hank "Sugarfoot" Garland often playing starring roles. As Kienzle points out, According To My Heart employs a shuffle beat, a year before Ray Price invented it! With Chet Atkins producing and playing on it, and Lightnin' Chance keeping up the rhythm, it's an exciting sound with Reeves' vocals sounding a lot like Tennessee Ernie Ford.

By 1957 Reeves was working with Atkins on a permanent basis and with the Nashville A-Team of Bob Moore, Buddy Harman, Floyd Cramer, Garland and the Jordanaires or Anita Kerr Singers in support, the sound was becoming smooth and very, very easy on the ear. That's not to confuse easy going and easy on the ear. The songs were mainly being written by the best in the business (Harlan Howard, Roger Miller, Cindy Walker, etc) and Reeves had found his niche with his rich baritone. Although he was becoming famous for the ballads, he was equally at home on uptempo numbers like Billy Bayou (neat work from Cramer) and Home (cha-wah).

The big selling point of this release will be the inclusion of a handful of rarities, the highlights being a couple that were released posthumously with overdubbed strings and such. Here we get the undubbed versions of Harlan Howard's, The Image Of Me (no he's not!) and Distant Drums. The sparser sound of Distant Drums is a joy, with the vocals sounding even better in this new, airier setting. The album track, Stand At Your Window sounds like it was recorded a few years before it's 1960 date and is a great pure country song which is surely due a cover version.

Another strong collection from a series that is strong with only a few flaws - John Hartford and Ronnie Milsap won't be finding their way onto my shelf that's for sure.

Shaun Mather
September 2002


Best of Joe Ely (MCA)
Best of BR5-49 (BMG)

Here with have 2 Best Of compilations from artists that touch me in all the right places, despite having sounds from completely different ends of the country spectrum. Joe Ely comes from the hard-edged rock clubs, while BR5-49 play across the street in a 50's retro style. One thing they have in common is that country radio and Billboard charts have never done more than tip their fake cowboy hats at them.

The Joe Ely album is a real value-for-money CD with twenty tracks covering most his albums and most of his finest moments from 1977 to 1998 and running at over 76 minutes. It kicks off with three Butch Hancock songs from Ely's self-titled debut twenty-five years ago. She Never Spoke Spanish To Me is a great song with typical Hancock wry humour, "Her favourite poets all agree, that Spanish is a loving tongue, but she never spoke Spanish to me." Next there's the Dixieland feel of Suckin' A Big Bottle Of Gin and the lovelorn Tennessee's Not The State I'm In.

1978's Honky Tonk Masquerade was an even better album than the debut and here with have 4 must-haves. Boxcars is hard and rocking while Tonight I Think I'm Gonna Go Downtown is a classic sad song. Telling how Jimmie Dale Gilmore came across the tone for the tune, Ely says, "The melody and the words are so lonesome, but you'd have to know how miserable Lubbock's downtown was back then to understand what it really meant when Jimmie said he was going there. It's the perfect Lubbock song." Ely wrote the title song, a stunning portrayal of how people act happy when in truth they're as sad as a country song. Hancock's West Texas Waltz is great fun with hilarious lyrics. When I saw Ely in south Wales a few years ago he did they after constant requests - I was standing right at the front and shouting for it after every song but thought there was no chance after he did his final encore. Without the band he came back on and said, "I gotta do this for this guy down here" (pointing at me). He treated us to a sing-along acoustic version which included the unrecorded verse about the baseball commentator who got kicked off the air she saying to his fellow (female) commentator, "I'll kiss you on the strikes, you kiss me on the balls" - what a night!

Down On The Drag is only represented with 2 songs, again from the pen of Hancock, the ballad Fools Fall In Love and Standin' At The Big Hotel, the saga of a country boy in the big city. Ely was rocking hard by the start of the new decade and was touring with The Clash. The live album Live Shots echoed the sound and we get a couple of examples here, the Jerry Lee styled Fingernails and an interpretation of Blind Lemon Jefferson's Long Snake Moan.

Musta Notta Gotta Lotta from '81 is more Jerry Lee fare whilst the other number from the album is the glorious Dallas. I don't think it's as good as the Flatlanders original that he was on a decade before, the song hits a nice groove but lacks the wistful beauty of Gilmore's voice. After laying low for a couple of years he was back in 1984 with Hi-Res, an over-produced affair that saw him moving farther away from his roots. He was heavier than heavier as witnessed by Lord Of The Highway which had one fabulous stand-out, the clever and nasty, Me And The Billie Kid. The last verse is a gas, it's songwriting at it's best.

I've always has a soft spot for his 1990 live album, Live at Liberty Lunch. Only one song is chosen here though, but what a choice, If You Were A Bluebird, a duet with the songs author Butch Hancock. With lines like "If you were a hotel, you'd be a grand one" and "If I was a highway, I'd be stretching, I'd be fetching you home", it a Hancock love song with no strings or sarcasm - a breath-taking piece of work.

I'm surprised that the song taken from 1992's Love And Danger is Settle For Love. I've got nothing against the song but how could you leave out his cover Robert Earl Keen's brilliant Road Goes on Forever. It's a cleverly written story song which is given the full treatment and should be in a Joe Ely EP compilation, never mind a 20 track one. Anyway, life's too short to hold grudges. By the mid-'90s he was back in Texas vein with hints of a journey over the Mexican border, as shown in the last trio of selections, a highlight being the western ballad Letter To Laredo.

With fine sleeve notes from John Morthland and a brighter clarity to the records than my old vinyl has, this is a great addition to the collection whether you're an old fan or someone just about to venture into the windblown Texas world of Joe Ely.

Whilst Joe Ely was never expected to hit the charts, there was great anticipation when BR5-49 began their recording career in the mid-'90s. Sick of the pop sounds of Faith Hill, Shania Twain and the ever-losing-it Garth Brooks, BR5-49 gave their followers a taste of Johnny Horton, Webb Pierce and the like. Pretty soon people were acting like Little Ramona, the problem was, country radio seemed scared to play them - what would people think, a country station playing country songs - shock, horror! where's that Reba CD before Chad and Crystal in Middleclass, Illinois sell their cowboy boots and turn to another station!!

This 17 tracker covers their studio and live albums as well as a handful of unreleased numbers. If we're getting really picky I would say that their recorded stuff is not as vibrant as their live act, but it's still better than anything else on the charts (Alan Jackson excluded!). There's an abundance of covers here that really hit the spot, like Cherokee Boogie, Hickory Wind and a great version of Webb's Honky Tonk Song. Georgia On A Fast Train is a barn-storming take on the Billy Joe Shaver classic and Tommy Collins' You're A Hum-Dinger has great appeal. Best of all the covers though must be Hank's A House Of Gold which features Gary Bennett at his very best.

Their originals are a high class collection usually with a healthy sprinkling of humour like My Name Is Mud or Bettie Bettie. Little Ramona (Gone Hillbilly Nuts) is the anthem of Lower Broadway, documenting the audiences change as BR's reputation grew. Two songs that will live long after the group are Even If It's Wrong from Bennett and Lifetime To Prove from fellow front man Chuck Mead.

With Bennett and Smilin' Jay McDowell recently leaving the group and two new members taking their place, this Best Of is a perfect way to encapsulate the first chapter in the bands history. It would be nice to see them achieve an even greater success in chapter two, but not if it means forgoing their hillbilly sound for something more radio friendly. Luckily, I don't think that's going to happen.

Shaun Mather
September 2002


Hank Williams III
Lovesick, Broke & Driftin'

Curb D2-78728
Well the Good Lord wasn't willing, the creeks did rise, and ole Hank Snr drifted off in the swell, kickin' 'n' a-splashin' as he went down. It looks like the Lord has had a rethink and is finally willing. The creeks have gone back down and just coming to the surface is Hank Williams III, the latest in the honky tonk family jewels. He's not completely out of the water yet, but he's certainly swimming in the right direction.

Hank III is a musical schizophrenic who could actually be called Hank 3rd and 4th. He channels his energies through country music one minute and hard-rock-punk the next. His new Curb release, Lovesick, Broke & Driftin' sees him firmly in his cowboy boots and stetson, ramblin' and moanin' the blues like grand-pap used to do. His first album, Risin' Outlaw showed a massive influence from his buddy Wayne Hancock who wrote three of the songs for it. This time out Hank 3 himself has written 12 out of the 13 tracks, the other being a cover of Bruce Springsteen's Atlantic City. As a songwriter he's captured the lonesome, downbeat, wasted life that Hank Snr was so good at, and he's even had a stab at some of the brighter moments in life, the partying and the women, a style that Hank 1st excelled at, despite everyone remembering him for his sadness.

Amazingly, considering how country it sounds, the album has been on the charts for nearly six months, and that's without a pop song in sight. Single wise, the only one that is anywhere near "radio-friendly" is the opener, 7 Months, 39 Days which sounds like a BR549 single. Throughout the album, the band are phenomenal with Kayton Roberts' steel guitar worthy of special mention. He gives the slowies that haunted sound that bring extra life to such brilliant numbers as Cecil Brown and Broke, Lovesick & Driftin'. Walkin' With Sorrow is a brilliant Hank Snr moment with lyrics and backing bringing the Hillbilly God back to life.

It's not all doom and gloom though, he does let rip on the semi-rockabilly Lovin' & Huggin' and the high-stepper, Nighttime Ramblin' Man, which gives Johnny Highland an opportunity to pick his fingers off. Any radio play he may have got was probably scuppered the minute the "establishment" heard Trashville, an attack on the pop sounds that Nashville loves to ram down our throats. Musically it sounds like The Devil Went Down To Georgia, lyrically it could have been written by Hancock or Dale Watson, "I used to think that country was out in Nashville Tennessee, but I'd rather go back to Texas you see."

I've always said I want to be burried in a double-bass, well I want it to be the one Jason Brown plays on One Horse Town, it's mixed perfectly with a fully rounded bottom end that chugs along relentlessly, perfect. Another highlight is the bluesy Mississippi Mud, an ode to the life of a good ole boy, with some neat harmonica from Patrick Weickenand.

The albums closer is a stunning adaption of Atlantic City, bringing an end to a great album. Are you sure Hank done it this way - yes, I'm sure he did, but Hank III is doing it his own way, he's not just a clone, he's carving his own niche and bloody good it is too.

Shaun Mather
August 2002


Merle Haggard - The Peer Sessions
Audium Records - AUD-CD-8152
What a deadly combination this is. One of the greatest voices in the history of country music singing his favourites from Peer Music Publishing whose catalogue is bumper-full of hillbilly classics. The songs were recorded at the Tally Studios in Palo Cedro, California and at Bradley's Barn in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee over a a three year period commencing in September 1996. It was produced by Merle Haggard and Roy Horton for Peer-Southern Productions and has just been released by Audium Records. The albums feel is summed up by Horton who said "From this project's inception, it was my goal to keep Merle in his element, performing songs he loved and grew up with, allowing Merle the unrestricted freedom to record each song as it spoke to him, in a manner in which he felt comfortable." Talk about achieving your goal!

The playing throughout is superb, with western swing, jazz and hillbilly gelling seamlessly together. The group is a mixture of his Strangers touring band, Redd Volkaert, Biff Adam, Norm Hamlet, Don Markham, Abe Manuel, Jr. Eddie Curtis, Joe Manuel and Randy Mason as well as such Nashville stalwarts as Buddy Harmon, Charlie McCoy, Pig Robbins and Buddy Spicher. It was also the final work of the legendary producer and musician Owen Bradley, who adds some nice piano to Sweethearts Or Strangers and Time Changes Everything. The Nashville A-team get behind Merle and Jimmy Davis for Hang On To The Memory. Davis sounds unbelievable for a man who was in his late 90's at the time. Shackles And Chains from the Davis songbook is another highlight with Abe Manual Jr. shining on accordion and harmonica.

More than a trio of decades on and Merle still sings the dickens out of the Jimmie Rodgers catalogue - the opening cut here being a stunning version of Peach Pickin' Time In Georgia. Norm Hamlet plays a perfect dobro solo, and is actually one of the stars of the album. The other Rodgers numbers, Anniversary Blue Yodel, Miss The Mississippi and You and Whippin' That Old T.B. are further testaments to Merle's love of the Singing Brakeman.

The fact that it won't get a spin on country radio and won't dent the charts, doesn't matter a damn. This is a near perfect release that could be labelled a labour of love except that the word labour is at odds with the whole thing.

Shaun Mather
June 2002.


Dale Watson
Best of the Hightone Years

CD - Hightone HCD8140
If any song sums up the persona of Texas honky tonker Dale Watson it's his stab at the estab, Nashville Rash with a chorus that sadly reads true 7 years after it's debut, "Help me Merle, I'm breakin' out in a Nashville rash, I'm too country now for country, just like Johnny Cash". Watson cut three highly acclaimed albums for the Hightone label, and as you may have guessed from the title, this is a best of from the collaboration. Or is it? As with any compilation there's always something left off which you feel should be on. In this case two spring to mind, the poignant A Real Country Song and the pure Texas swing-stepper, South Of Round Rock. Having said that, there's nothing on the CD that doesn't stand up.

His numbers run through the real themes of country music with some trucking songs (Truckin' Man, Truckstop In La Grange) and some love's-gone-to-pot songs (Caught, You Lie). His songs are littered with classic honky tonk images and coupled with his Strangers style backing and his Haggard vocals, it's as close as we can get to 1960's Bakersfield.

Blessed Or Damned is a poignant tale of a country singers highs and lows and is one of the albums highlights. Another high-spot is Cheatin' Heart Attack where he recognises his weakness but probably won't be arsed to fight it, "If I stay for one more beer, I won't be leaving here alone, I feel a cheatin' heart attack coming on". A country album isn't complete without the singer feeling sorry for himself at least once, here we get two opportunities with Pity Party and the excellent I Hate These Songs.

If you haven't got the three individual albums, "Cheatin' Heart Attack" (Hightone, 1995), "Blessed Or Damned" (Hightone, 1996) and "I Hate These Songs" (Hightone, 1997), this is a great place to start. In a perfect world, the Nashville charts and American airwaves would be full of the likes of Dale Watson and Wayne Hancock. Well it ain't perfect so we get Reba and Faith Hill. Do your bit to start the revolution now, buy this and enjoy the Honkiest Tonkiest Beer Joint singer around.

Shaun Mather
June 2002

Photo credits: www.maximumink.com/retrograde/dec2000.html -- www.freehomepages.com/ frankssite/in.html


Ernest Tubb & the Texas Troubadours
The Complete Live 1965 Show

Lost Gold Records - LRG 5018
REVIEW - Between 1944 and 1955 Ernest Tubb had enjoyed an incredible 57 top 40 hits, six of them topping the charts. Whilst things had eased off a bit during the rock 'n' roll era of the late 50's, he was back with a vengeance in the early 60's. The year of this live show, 1965 was another good one for E.T. who had another four hits, including a duet with Loretta Lynn.

By 1965 Tubb was 51 years old and had been in the business for over thirty years. During his time he'd played just about every shit-hot or shit-hole honky tonk in the country, developing a great rapport with the audience. A lot of this comes over on the CD, his good natured, down home humour showing him completely at ease with the crowd. During the first number someone obviously came up to the stage to take a photo when the flash bulb exploded. After the song Ernest jokes that Leon ????, thinking it was a jealous husband catching up with him.

This double CD is an extended version of the Rhino issue from the early 90's, featuring nine bonus cuts, four of them instrumentals. There's four numbers from drummer Jack Greene, whose vocals are a bit too clean and smooth for the hard edged backing of the Texas Troubadours. Much better are the two numbers from Cal Smith, who does I Couldn't Care Less and a superb version of Hawkshaw Hawkins's, Lonesome 7-7203.

The show comes from the Spanish Castle near Seattle, and is in sparkling sound quality, with guitarist Leon Rhodes' solos ringing like a bell. Former Troubadour drummer Jan Kurtis recorded the show with his then-state-of-the-art Camelot Records equipment. In his sleeve notes Kurtis states that he placed microphones all over the stage in a successful attempt to achieve the best possible sound.

Leon Rhodes is a real highlight of the show, his playing carrying on the tradition started by Billy Byrd. There's also plenty of fine steel-work from Buddy Charlton but most solos go the way of Rhodes. What is surprisingly good is Tubb's voice which is as good as I've heard him sound. Never the most versatile vocalist, he's sings within his range here and sounds brilliant on the likes of There's a Little Bit of Everything in Texas and Drivin' Nails In My Coffin.

The set features a pleasing mix of old numbers from his back catalogue as well then-current items like Do What You Do Do Well and a great version of Pass The Booze, which he reprises as an encore. There's more than a hint of western swing to some of the numbers, but thankfully no sign of Ernest trying to go Nashpop. Later that year he became the sixth member to be inducted to the Country Music Hall of Fame, a fitting tribute to the man, as is this release.
Intro/Drivin' Nails in My Coffin; I Love You Because; There's a Little Bit of Everything in Texas; Blue Eyed Elaine; Slipping Around; Mississippi Gal; I'll Take a Back Seat for You; Pass the Booze; Warm Red Wine; C Jam Blues; Born to Lose (Jack Greene); I Couldn't Care Less (Cal Smith); Seaman's Blues; Walking the Floor Over You; Thanks a Lot; You Don't Have to Be a Baby to Cry; Lonesome 7-7203 (Cal Smith); Panhandle Rag; Do What You Do, Do Well; Soldier's Last Letter; (A Memory) That's All You'll Ever Be to Me; Rhodesbud Boogie; Driftwood on the River; Try Me One More Time; Last Letter (Jack Greene); Hold It (Jan Kurtis); I Wash My Hands in Muddy Water (Jack Greene); Pass the Booze (Encore); Walking the Floor Over You.


Ray Price: 50 Years
Since Chart Debut

Half a century ago this summer, Ray Price made his first appearance on the Billboard country charts where he stayed for a full thirty years. That's a pretty good show of longevity and it seems unlikely that any of today's high-flyers will last in the public eye half as long. They certainly won't be doing it with an original sound, like Price did when he created a 4/4 shuffle which has since been referred to as the Ray Price Beat. Before that he'd been a straight hillbilly singer, then after the shuffle, he's gone from a fine western swinger to a smooth countrypolitan complete with strings and choruses.

His career began with spots on the Hillbilly Circus in Abilene and the influential Big D Jamboree in Dallas and made his debut disc in 1949 for the independent Dallas label, Bullet. The tracks, Your Wedding Corsage and Jealous Lies were cut at Jim Beck's studio in Dallas and sat squarely in the hillbilly mould. His big break came on March 15th, 1951, when following constant promoting by talent scout Troy Martin, he was picked up by Columbia. Apparently A&R at the label, Don Law, wasn't convinced by Price but eventually relented. By this time Price was kicking around with another Martin discovery Lefty Frizzell, gaining vital experience in a number of areas, some of them musical!

Martin worked hard to secure a spot on the Grand Ole Opry and it was here that Price befriended the legendary Hank Williams, who was smack in the middle of self-destructing. Hank showed him the ropes and was so taken with his new running-buddy that he wrote Weary Blues for him and lent him his Drifting Cowboys for Price's earliest Columbia sessions. Price repayed Hank by stepping in for him when Hank missed a show, an occurrence that was sadly becoming the norm more than the exception.

The first session came in March '51 and any nerves that he may have felt were quashed by the experience of Hank's band who had seen it all before. Don Helms on steel, Jerry Rivers on fiddle, Cedric Rainwater on bass and lead guitarist, Sammy Pruett gave the songs a distinct Hank Williams sound, although the sweet, lilting vocals, show that Ray Price was always intent on being his own man. One of the highlights, If You're Ever Lonely was written by Lefty, whilst The Road Of No Return sounds like the song Hank never done - a classic honky-tonk weeper.

Appearances with Williams and the other top Nashville stars, as well as the Opry broadcasts, ensured that the public was becoming aware of Ray Price, all he needed now was the right song. That came courtesy of C.M. Bradley and Louise Ulrich who came up with Talk To Your Heart. From the opening strains of "When you're alone at night/With the world locked outside/Have a talk to your heart about me", it's pure honky-tonk heaven with Price pushing his vocals farther than he'd done before and the Drifting Cowboys providing the perfect teardrop backdrop.

Cut on Valentine's Day, 1952, the single (Columbia 20913) came out a month later and by May had entered the charts, among strong competition from Williams himself who was riding high with Half As Much. Lefty was also high on the hog with Don't Stay Away (Till Love Grows Cold) and others jockeying for Joe Public's nickels included Ernest Tubb (Somebody Stole My Money), Hank Thompson (Wild Side Of Life), Carl Smith ((Are You Teasing Me?), Hank Snow (The Gold Rush Is Over) and Eddy Arnold (Easy On The Eyes).

Despite the stiff competition, Talk To Your Heart entered the Top 10 and eventually peaked at number three. It was massive achievement which he was able to replicate with the follow-up, when Don't Let The Stars Get in Your Eyes hit the number four spot later in the year. 1953 was a stranger year which saw the death of Hank Williams and Price failing to register a hit record. One upshot of Williams' demise was that most of the Drifting Cowboys joined Price, but eventually, as Price strove to find his own sound, the band was dissipated as he formed his own band, the Cherokee Cowboys. The following year he returned to the charts with I'll Be There (If You Ever Want Me) and began an unbroken spell of hits for the next three decades.

His career has been a star-studded affair that has seen phenomenal hits like Crazy Arms, City Lights and For The Good Times, as well as band members that have included Roger Miller and Willie Nelson. He is still active today, amazing when you consider that his first hit was 50 years ago this month.

Shaun Mather
May 2002.


Golden Age Of Rock 'n' Roll
Country Special Edition CD

REVIEW: Volume 9 of the great Golden Age Of Rock 'n' Roll series departs from the normal sequencing in that it's a Country Special Edition. Whereas the previous eight volumes featured a variety of tracks from doo-wop and instrumentals to straight ahead rock 'n' roll, this compilation looks at 30 tracks which all crossed over from the country charts to appear on the National pop charts. All the numbers come from the ten year period between 1956 and 1965. They echo the changing times that country music found itself in following the shake-up of the music industry courtesy of the rocking sounds of the teenagers. Whilst a lot of the teens (and most of the performers) had a steeped background in country music, they found something in rock 'n' roll that was cool and didn't suffer the cornball stigma associated with the country music of the late 40's and early 50's.

It is testimony to the talents of the artists on this CD that none of them appear awkward trying to balance the poppier sounds with the steel guitars. They all appear comfortable to sing their songs of heartbreak whilst an unfamiliar vocal chorus whirls away behind. Most of the songs are of such a high quality that the passing of time has seen them become recognised as legendary classics. A number of them like El Paso, Ring of Fire and Oh Lonesome Me have constantly cropped up on compilations, but their inclusions on another reissue is warranted here as their omissions would have lessened this CDs appeal.

It's great to hear such gems as Walk On By, Alabam and You're The Reason, which haven't suffered/benefited from the same overuse. Also good to hear Ferlin Husky's Gone, and especially interesting after reading Jack Clement (Now Dig This 230 - May 2002) say that him and Sam loved the vocal backing, which helped influence their decision to add the effect to Johnny Cash's Guess Things Happen That Way. As good as these are, I just can't say anything positive about the Bill Anderson track, Still. It's stands knees and feet below the rest - and is the only weak track in an otherwise flawless selection.

As with most Ace releases, the booklet is fine, this time running to 27 pages from Rob Finnis, and the sound quality is top-notch. The publicity blurb sums up it's appeal succinctly, "an opportunity to acquire 30 of their favourite records - beautifully sequenced and mastered - in the same place, at the same time!" Make that 29 not 30 (I hate Still) and the sentiments are mine.
  • Track listing:


    Luckenbach, Texas, (Back to the
    Basics of Love) - 25 Years On

    May, 2002 - This month marks 25 years since Waylon Jennings with a little bit of help from Willie Nelson hit the top of the charts with the glorious tune of innocence and ambiance, Luckenbach, Texas (Back To The Basics Of Love). Rarely does a songs backing music reflect the lyrics as they do here. The lines about kicking back and relaxing are enhanced by the music which hits a mellow groove and never attempts to leave it. It's one of the greatest country songs of all times from one's of it's greatest collaborators, the Outlaws, Waylon & Willie. Despite having Willie Nelson written all over it, the song was actually written by the producer Chips Moman and Bobby Emmons, a formidable combination who had also penned the brilliant Wurlitzer Prize for Jennings.

    Forget the hassles, forget the "normal" behavioral forms of your existence, chill out and get back to the basics of life. It was the way Willie and Waylon loved to live, partying in sun and beer although Waylon seemed to have a bit too much rebelliousness in him to lay low too long without a party. They could even be talking about the Nashville music industry. By the mid 70's everything Nashville was cutting was formulaic and by the book, and it took the Outlaws Waylon and Willie to release stuff that wasn't bona fide perfect. Their albums felt a bit loose and raw - basic. The Nashville Sound now sounded sophisticated and it's appeal had reached the cities as well as it's original rural audience. The old-guard wanted a return to roots and that's what holds all the appeal with Luckenbach, Texas. Waylon sings in his deep baritone which sounds like it needs a rest in this idyllic town before Willie joins in with an almost angelic sound, one of his greatest moments on disc.

    At the time of the single, both Waylon and Willie were at the top of their considerable peaks. Waylon was on a hot streak of albums and singles that had seen him become one of the biggest movers and shakers to stir the Nashville calm. Willie was just as hot but had moved to texas before he'd began to kick ass. The single was an immediate success, rising to the top of the country charts where it stayed for most of the early summer. It also marked Waylon's first appearance on the pop charts where it rose to number 25. The song was also the lead-off track for the Ol' Waylon album which also went to number one.

    What of Luckenbach itself. It sounds like a fictional place from a Larry McMurtry book but it does actually exist, it's a backwaters town deep in the heart of Texas. Consisting of just about ten acres of land between South Grape Creek and Snail Creek it was founded by German pioneers. The Post Office-General Store-Bar was opened in 1849 by Minna Engel, who originally named it Grape Creek, before later naming it after her husband, Carl Albert Luckenbach. It became established as a community trading post and was one of the few that never broke a peace treaty with the Comanche Indians whom they bartered and traded with. It seems that a peaceful air always prevailed in the town, there must have been something in the water of the creeks! A year later a Community Hall was built which is now known as the world famous Luckenbach Dance Hall, considered by many to be the Best Little Dancehall in Texas.

    By the mid 1970's, Luckenbach was still no more than a drive-through town and was actually advertised for sale with an ad that read "Town- population 3- for sale." Local rancher, poet and general Texan legend Hondo Crouch decided to buy it, apparently wanted it for a place to stop off and have a beer while traveling between his two ranches in central Texas. On 29 June 1973 the first Luckenbach World's Fair was held with Hondu winning the tobacco spitting contest, hurling his spit a commendable 23 feet. Ten thousand turned up for the Fair which also included chicken flying, armadillo racing and the legendary cow-chip throwing contest. The event was too big for the town and so the following year it was held at nearby Fredericksburg. Texan country singer Jerry Jeff Walker recorded a live album there in August '73, preferring the sound of the wooden Hall to the sterile atmosphere of a studio. Unfortunately he died in 1976, the year before his little bit of heaven was presented to the world, by two other legendary nomads.

    Strangely, neither Moman or Emmons had been to Luckenbach and Waylon didn't even visit there until he played there for the Willie Nelson Fourth of July picnic in 1997. The town still remembers Waylon though and when he passed away this February, Luckenbach held a memorial service for him. Flags flew at half mast, 500 bikers, ranch hands and musicians came to sign the Waylon Wall and play country music. They drank their beers, ate their barbecues and paid their respects. Sounds as free and easy going as the song itself really. As for Willie, he's still living out the song, he's bought some boots and faded jeans, he's got his songs and he still likes guitars tuned good and firm-feelin' women.

    (Chips Moman - Bobby Emmons)
    Recorded Jan 7-8, 1977, American Studios, Nashville, TN
    Waylon Jennings (voc, guitar); Willie Nelson (vocals); Richie Albright (drums); John Christopher (guitar); Sherman Hayes (bass); Ralph Mooney (steel guitar); Gordon Payne (guitar, vocal harmony); Barny Robertson (keyboards); Carter Robinson (vocal harmony); Rance Wasson (guitar, vocal harmony); Reggie Young (guitar).
    Produced by Chips Moman.

    The only two things in life that make it worth livin'
    Is guitars tuned good 'n' firm-feelin' women
    I don't need my name in the marquee lights
    I got my songs and I got you with me tonight
    Maybe it's time we got back to the basics of love

    Let's go to Luckenbach, Texas with Waylon and Willie and the boys
    This successful life we're livin' got us feudin' like the Hatfields and McCoys
    Between Hank Williams' pain songs and Newbury's train songs
    And blue eyes cryin' in the rain
    Out in Luckenbach, Texas ain't nobody feelin' no pain
    So baby let's sell your diamond ring Buy some boots and faded jeans and go away
    This coat and tie is chokin' me
    In your high society you cry all day
    We've been so busy keepin' up with the Jones
    Four-car garage and we're still buildin' on
    Maybe it's time we got back to the basics of love

    Let's go to Luckenbach, Texas with Waylon and Willie and the boys
    This successful life we're livin' got us feudin' like the Hatfields and McCoys
    Between Hank Williams' pain songs and Newbury's train songs
    And blue eyes cryin' in the rain
    Out in Luckenbach, Texas ain't nobody feelin' no pain

    Let's go to Luckenbach, Texas with Willie and Waylon and the boys
    This successful life we're livin's got us feudin' like the Hatfields and McCoys
    Between Hank Williams' pain songs and Newbury's train songs
    And blue eyes cryin' in the rain
    Out in Luckenbach, Texas there ain't nobody feelin' no pain
    Out in Luckenbach, Texas there ain't nobody feelin' no pain.


    Robbin McCombs: Then And Now
    Lo Mac Records

    You could be excused for thinking that the last thing the world needs is another Hank Williams tribute song, but Alabama country singer Robbin McCombs has been making a name for himself during the last twelve months thanks to his heart-felt tribute to the Drifting Cowboy. Titled Hiram (Hank's real Christian name), the track is a four minute biography with loads of atmosphere and a voice so dripped in southerness that it would make Hank sound like he was from up-state New York. If you can picture such a thing, he sounds like an Excello blues singer cutting country music, with lazy, drawn-out vocals ala Slim Harpo or Lazy Lester.

    From southern Alabama, he is a true disciple of Hank, moving to the town of Hank's birth, Georgiana after a spell working on a shrimp boat. He has played guitar since the age of 7 and has now recorded this, his first album for Lo Mac Records. He has chosen a top-notch band for the backing including Gene Chrisman on drums, Charlie McCoy on harmonica and Hank's former steel guitarist Don Helms joins him for Hiram. Helms adds his unmistakable sound to give this excellent number even more credits.

    His voice is at times resembles Mark Chesnutt, and is particularly effective on a couple of the heart-pullers like I Have Three Hearts and Aces & Eights. After Hiram, the next best thing on the CD is I'm In The Country which has also been winning him plaudits on traditional country radio stations.

    With all ten songs written by McCombs, he's a real talent who may be just too rural from mainstream radio, but who like Wayne Hancock and Dale Watson, seems more interested in singing in his own honky tonk style than bowing to the wants of the major labels. One criticism I would have is the lack of variety in the pace of the album. It's ballads all the way until track nine, perhaps he should learn from Hancock, the art of spicing up the sound with a high-stepper thrown in now and then. After all, for every You Win Again, Hank did a Move It On Over.

    For more detasils contact Howard Lofton, Lo Mac Records & Production, P.O. Box 73, Georgiana, Alabama, 36033 or phone 334.376.9141. Alternativelt e-mail pacmeat@webtv.net

    Shaun Mather
    May 2002


    Porter Wagoner
    RCA Country Legends

    BMG Heritage 07863 65102 2

    Stepping in where the now defunct Buddha labelled once stood, BMG Heritage have issued another well chosen CD of classic country music, this time show casing The Thin Man From The Plains, Porter Wagoner. Ignoring the easy option of clumping together sixteen of his biggest hits, they've instead chosen an intriguing mixture of hits, b-sides and album tracks. In doing so we are treated to an impressive overview of his styles from spring 1954 to spring 1971. Country music evolved considerably during that period and Porter was no different, moving from the early hillbilly/bluegrass leanings of Company's Comin' to the countrypolitan story songs of the late 60s like The Carroll County Accident.

    Looking at Porter Wagoner decades after the music of this CD, the first thing you have to do is cast the gawky Nudie suits and Dolly stories to one side, and just concentrate on the music. His voice and the backings are as country as dungarees and he although he is an accomplished songwriter himself, he wasn't afraid to use some of Nashville's finest tunesmiths. In fact, the only tune here that he wrote is the wierd psychotic tale, The Rubber Room.

    The earliest tracks on the CD are Company's Comin' and A Satisfied Mind from '54, the former becoming his first Top 10 hit, the latter being his first number one. The other songs of '50s vintage are A Good Time Was Had By All and Midnight, which although they didn't become hits, are top-notch country. Midnight, from the summer of 1956 is a particularly fine Boudleaux Bryant-Chet Atkins number in the Delmore Brothers mode and features Bob Moore and Grady Martin amongst it's pickers.

    In 1960 his career took on a heightened status with the introduction of the weekly syndicated TV show, The Porter Wagoner Show which was to run until 1981. The two tracks from 1960 are classics. Legend Of The Big Steeple kicks off with Velam Smith sounding like Duane Eddy and reminds me of Johnny Cash, in parts borrowing from Pickin' Time. It's written by none other than Charles Underwood, the former Memphis student who penned Ubangi Stomp for Waren Smith. Dig the band as well - Bob Moore, Buddy Harman, Rusty Kershaw, Pig Robbins and the Jordanaires! From later in the year comes Everything She Touches Gets The Blues, a Bob Luman type acher that allows Hank Garland plenty of room to flex his fingers.

    There's a couple of early '60s hits courtesy of the brilliant Misery Loves Company (#1) and Cold Dark Waters (#10). Misery Loves Company is a Jerry Reed number featuring another mind-boggling band line-up with Floyd Cramer on piano and Shot Jackson and Cecil Brower on fiddles. From the same period comes his theme song, the minor bluegrass hit Howdy Neighbor Howdy, complete with a great Jackson solo and The Life Of The Party, a slow bar-room classic.

    Curly Putman's tale of a condemned prisoner, Green Green Grass Of Home has become legendary here in Wales thanks to Tom Jones's version, but it's Porter who had the first crack at it, taking it to number four in the country charts. It's a stone country version that was so spot on that Jerry Lee and later Tom Jones needed to change very little of the arrangement. He was cooking for the last part of the decade and went from strength to strength, recording in his own right and duets with his understudy Dolly Parton.

    Confessions Of A Broken Man features Anita Carter whose unmistakeable voice beautifully echoes the lonesomeness of the lyrics. It's the type of song that defined country music during this period and was written by Bill Anderson who also wrote The First Mrs. Jones, a sad tale of a lost one-way love who just can't live without her. It's another one of those amazing three-minute movies that Nashville is soooooooo good at. I can't believe it wasn't issued as a single, instead being just a track on the 1967 album, The Cold Hard Facts Of Life, which itself is another honky tonk love-gone-wrong gem from the pen of Anderson.

    The Carroll County Accident is as country-pop as he gets and even then he's stay way over on the country side. From the pen of producer Bob Ferguson it's another classic, happily mixing sadness and tragedy in the finest country tradition. The Rubber Room is the latest offering here, comes from an April '71 session, and with it's weird sound effects and some possessed vocals from Porter, it's rightly become a cult classic.

    The packaging is as impressive as the music and comes with full session details and the usual excellent notes from Rich Kienzle. Snap it up, this collection is an excellent introduction to fine singer who's as country as it gets.

    Shaun Mather
    April 2002.


    THE EARLY YEARS 1958-1964

    Universal/Hip-O Records 314-584-096-2

    Long before Waylon earned/demanded the right to produce his own music, the way he wanted it, he worked like any other new artist, on a constant search for a distinct style. As you'd expect, it saw him take many musical avenues and though some of these didn't really work, his rich baritone voice always boomed large and gave hints to what lay ahead.

    The compilation kicks off with both sides of Brunswick 9-55130, When Sin Stops and his adaption of the cajun anthem Jole Blon. They've always been held in high esteem thanks to the guitar work of Jennings' mentor, Buddy Holly. Holly had shown an interest in young disc jockey who at the time was working in Lubbock, Texas and decided to produce the single for him. Cut in September 1958, the band included Tommy Allsup, the Roses and legendary sax-man King Curtis. When Sin Stops has a typical Crickets sound with Waylon sounding airily like a cross between the Big Bopper and Junior Brown.

    >From the Audio Recorders studio in Pheonix, Arizona in late 1960-early 1961 comes the Trend single coupling My Baby Walks All Over Me and The Stage (Stars In Heaven), a tribute to Holly, Valens, Bopper and Eddie Cochran. It's a narrative over a military drum beat - by all accounts Waylon was deeply affected by the plane crash and never really came to terms with it for a few years.

    Except for a misplaced 1964 Bat single which unsuccessfully covers Roy Orbison's Dream Baby and Crying, the remainder of the set comes from A&M records. There's an intriguing half dozen tracks from 1963 and early '64 on which he's arranged and conducted by Herb Alpert, some of them featuring his brass work which gives Waylon a whole new sound. Highlights are the covers of Four Strong Winds and The House Of The Rising Sun. The cream of the session and perhaps the CD is his own Just To Satisfy You which is the first hint of the sound that he'd find a decade later. When Bobby Bare heard this on a Pheonix radio station, he bought it to the attention of Chet Atkins who in turn got Waylon to try his luck in Music City.

    A mammoth session on December 3, 1964 proved his most successful to date, with a stone-cold country quartet laying down the country beat whilst Waylon developed his ever evolving vocal technique. He and Harlan Howard served one another well, and two Harlan numbers were cut in Sing The Girls A Song, Bill and the glorious, Sally Was A Good Old Girl. His version of Dylan's Don't Think Twice, It's Alright is brilliant and ranks with Elvis' Tomorrow Is A Long Time as my favourite Dylan covers.

    Waylon Jennings didn't become the most wanted Outlaw in Nashville overnight, he spent six years in the musical wilderness before he crossed the Tennessee border. You can enjoy a condensed recap of those six years in three quarters of an hour, without enduring the hardships and frustrations. It's all been available on the Bear Family box-set The Journey - Destiny's Child, but if that's just a bit too much dosh, this is a more than worthy second best.

    Shaun Mather, March 2002



    March, 2002 - This month sees the Guitar Man, Jerry Reed turn 65. When you think of him, all the images that he conjures up are upbeat and bring a smile to your face. That's not something you can say about many people, let alone someone who made his mark in the cut-throat world of entertainment. I was flicking through the Nick Tosches book Country which tells great stories of Nashville's seedier side and Jerry Reed doesn't get a mention. Okay, it might seem boring when compared to the eccentricities of Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash or Waylon Jennings, but it's a measure of his rock-solid disposition. His shit-kicking grin and his down home humour have shone through both his musical and acting career and helped him endure a career which is in it's 6th decade. He's the archetypal southern good ol' boy done good. He's the type of guy you wish was an uncle, just to go fishing with, stop off in a bar on the way home for a quick beer and shoot some pool. Whether he'd want me as a nephew is a different matter!

    Jerry Reed will go down in history as a great musician, songwriter and singer who also had more than a few successes on the big screen. It wasn't all plain sailing for the Alabama Wild Man though, as his career took some time to really take-off. In fact, many a lessor man would have packed his bags and headed back home, happy to tell anyone who'd listen how with a bit more luck he'd of been the next big thing.

    He was born, Jerry Reed Hubbard on March 20, 1937 in Atlanta, Georgia, into an unsettled marriage, and by that first summer his parents had parted. Together with his sister he spent the next seven years on a merry-go-round of orphanages and foster homes before returning to his mother and her new husband. Music was a constant in his life and after his mother bought him a second hand guitar he wanted nothing else but to be an entertainer. He soon developed his own style and began to write his own songs.

    After he left school he worked in a cotton mill during the day and the honky tonks at night. He came to the attention of Atlanta policeman LeRoy Sumner, who in turn introduced him to local music empressario Bill Lowery who ran a live country radio show on WGST. Lowery liked what he heard (Aunt Meg's Wooden Leg) and arranged for Reed to undertake a thirty-day tour with the legendary Ernest Tubb.

    After the tour he secured a disc jockey job at WGST and joined the Lowery-managed group, Kenny Lee and the Western Playboys which included steel guitar wizard, Pete Drake. When Faron Young was discharged from the Army, Capitol Records threw a show in his honour, with Reed gaining a spot on the bill. His performance ultimately led to him signing a three-year deal with the label's country boss, Ken Nelson, an A&R man with a track record like Jessie Owens.

    Reed's three years at the label saw him try a number of styles from country to pop to rock 'n' roll. He excelled at them all and although he failed to register any hit records, tracks like When I Found You, Mister Whiz and I've Had Enough are help in high esteem today by rockabilly fanatics. Around this time he also got some of songs recorded by other artists, like Ric Cartey and the Jiv-A-Tones and Gene Vincent whose eighth single was the Reed composition, Crazy Legs.

    In June '57 he met his future wife, Priscilla Mitchell at a gig in Lithia Springs, Georgia but was becoming progressively more disallusioned with his lack of success. In typically humorous fashion he summed the situation up to reporter Ed Bumgardner by saying that "My records sold like hot cakes. Fifty cents a sack."

    Following two cracking numbers (You Make It, They Take It and Heart Appeal) from his last Capitol session on 6th May 1958, he headed for the Army, where he was stationed just six miles from home in Fort McPherson, GA. He joined the same army band that Faron Young had fronted during his tenure with Uncle Sam, the Circle A Wranglers. He continued his association with Lowery, recording for his NRC label and writing for his publishing company. It was his writing that grabbed the headlines when his composition, That's All You Gotta Do became a number 6 hit for Brenda Lee, and earned him plenty of coin as a free-ride on the flip of the world-wide smash, I'm Sorry.

    This success inspired him to hang up his boots and rifle and move to Nashville, hell bent on pursuing his songwriting. He quickly gained a reputation as a talented session and tour-band guitarist and landed a deal with Columbia in 1961. Although it helped him further develop his own unique style, it was a fairly uneventful association, except for a couple of minor hits with Goodnight Irene and Hully Gully Guitar.

    It was his next career move that was to prove to be his elevator ride to the top floor. In 1965 he came to the attention of Chet Atkins who wasted little time in signing him to RCA for whom Atkins was a Nashville A&R executive. Recapping on the move, Reed told the Lexington Herald "I couldn't get a hit to save my life, and I'd been there (Nashville) three years. Then Chet Atkins began recording me and for RCA records and we haven't been off the charts since. Chet just said, "You're doing it wrong Mr Reed; let's try it this way," and damned if he wasn't right."

    The first album they worked on was an artistic success called The Unbelievable Guitar And Voice Of Jerry Reed which included three storming tracks in Guitar Man, US Male (both covered by Elvis) and the driving instrumental number The Claw. Later that year (1967) he finally cracked the country charts with the typically enlightning tale of the Tupelo Mississippi Flash.

    The remainder of the decade featured more of the same with hit singles (Remembering, Are You From Dixie) and further high class albums like Alabama Wildman and Explores Country Guitar. 1970 was to be his finest year with three hit albums (Cookin', Me and Jerry - with Chet Atkins and Georgia Sunshine) as well hit singles including the award winning tale of the swamp-man Amos Moses. He also picked up the Country Music Association award for Instrumentalist Of The Year. His musical success remained unabated for whole of the '70s and he supplemented this by trying his hand at another avenue of entertainment - acting.

    In 1974 he joined his mate Burt Reynolds in the movie, W.W. and the Dixie Dance Kings and following favourable reviews they worked together two years later in Gator. The following year they starred in one of the top hits of the year, Smokey and the Bandit as well as it's 1980 sequel. Further forays into acting have seen him in the recent blockbuster, The Waterboy.

    The early '80s saw further chart success with the number one hit She's Got The Goldmine (I Got The Shaft) and a top 20 duet with Waylon Jennings, Hold On, I'm Comin', a cover of the Sam & Dave soul classic. Although the hits had dried up by the middle of the decade, he has continued to record some top quality stuff, able to enjoy the deserved freedom of being able to record and perform when and what he wants. Talking about how he records nowadays he told Rolling Stone that "I'm just trying to be like an old Baptist preacher. I like to get in the studio and get the spirit moving, throwing babies up in the air. I've recorded for years and you go into two, three, four sessions a day and, my Lord, it just bores you to tears. This time we'd get in there and I'd say "Now boys, I want you to play ignorant. (laughs) Forget everything you ever knew about picking." When it gets too sophisticated, you just say, "We need a dose of ignorance in here."

    Way too affable and content with life to be bitter about Nashville's shunning of the old brigade, he did however tell Billboard that "I have trouble telling who the hell's singing what. You know, used to be you could identify people. When a Johnny Cash record kicked off, you knew who the hell it was. And Merle Haggard. They were identifiable. I don't hear a lot of that today, but that's the way of the world". Amen to that Jerry.

    If you can't be bothered to read the above but still want to know the details of his life, just take a listen to Alabama Wild man, a brilliant 2 minute 43 second autobiography. It drips with humour, just like the man. The way he describes his daddy at the show, you can just imagine it. Jerry Reed, happy birthday, you're one hell a star.

    DatePosWksTitleLabel & No.
    1967159Tupelo Mississippi FlashRCA 9334
    19681410RememberingRCA 9493
    1969206There's Better Things In LifeRCA 0124
    19691110Are You From Dixie (Cause I'm From Dixie Too)RCA 0211
    19701410Talk About The Good TimesRCA 9804
    1970167Georgia SunshineRCA 9870
    19701610Amos Moses/The Preacher And The BearRCA 9904
    1971113When You're Hot, You're HotRCA 9976
    19711111Ko-Ko JoeRCA 1011
    1972274Another PuffRCA 0613
    1972247Smell The FlowersRCA 0667
    1972228Alabama WildmanRCA 0738
    1973186You Took All The Ramblin' Out Of MeRCA 0857
    1973113Lord, Mr. FordRCA 0960
    1974255The Uptown Poker ClubRCA 0194
    1974136The Crude Oil BluesRCA 0224
    1974127A Good Woman's LoveRCA 0273
    1975186Let's Sing Our SongRCA 10132
    1977197SemolitaRCA 10893
    1977212/11East Bound And Down /
    I'm Just A Redneck In A Rock And Roll Bar
    RCA 11056
    1978206You Know WhatRCA 11164
    1978391Sweet Love FeelingsRCA 11232
    1978109/6(I Love You) What Can I Say / High Rollin'RCA 11281
    1978148Gimme Back My BluesRCA 11407
    197986Second-Hand Satin LadyRCA 11472
    1979402(Who Was The Man Who Put) The Line In GasolineRCA 11638
    1979128Sugar Foot RagRCA 11764
    1980364/4Age / Workin' At The Carwash BluesRCA 11944
    1980265Texas Bound And DownRCA 12083
    1981304PatchesRCA 12318
    1982324The Man With the Golden ThumbRCA 13081
    1982112She Got The Goldmine (I Got The Shaft)RCA 13268
    1982210The BirdRCA 13355
    1983139Down On The CornerRCA 13422
    1983169/9Good Ole Boys /
    She's Ready For Someone To Love Her
    RCA 13527
    1983206Hold On, I'm Comin'RCA 13580



    Capitol Cornerstones 0777-7-16277-2-9

    Although Merle Haggard was from Bakersfield, California, his parents were originally from Oklahoma but moved to the golden west during the Depression. They were proud of their roots and instilled this in their son. It was therefore with great pride that Haggard was able to perform in Muskogee, Oklahoma following the massive hit song in 1969.

    Live albums were becoming all the rage especially after the phenomenal success of Johnny Cash's prison albums. Capitol wasted no time in rushing out the album, cashing in on both the live format and the hit song.

    The crowd is responsive throughout and Merle is obviously enjoying himself. The sound quality is very impressive with the Strangers backing and Haggard' s vocals coming through very clear. Highlights of the set are the two Jimmie Rodgers covers, No Hard Times and Hobo Bills' Last Ride. He also gives a stirring performance on the atmospheric, Silver Wings.

    The hits Mama Tried and Workin' Man Blues are particularly fine as is the extended medley which takes in his true life traumas, Swinging Doors, I'm A Lonesome Fugitive, Sing Me Back Home and Branded Man. The closer, Okie From Muskogee gets the type of reception you'd expect and is reprieved before he can leave the stage.

    As I say the sound quality is great but the compared to what Sony have done with Folsom Prison and San Quentin for Cash, the packaging is disappointing. There's no extra liner notes, or extra un-issued tracks. Still a great CD to get though, and comes highly recommended.

    Shaun Mather
    March 2002