Buck Owens: Country Singer’s Prayer

Buck Owens’ previously unreleased final album for Capitol

Don Rich’s death in a 1974 motorcycle accident had a well-documented impact on Buck Owens. With his musical drive in neutral, his chart success declining and his Capitol contract expiring, Owens departed his longtime label, recorded a pair of albums for Warner Brothers and faded into a musical hiatus. Lost in the shuffle was this final album Owens recorded in 1975 for Capitol at his Bakersfield studio. Two singles – “The Battle of New Orleans” and “Country Singer’s Prayer” – were released to little chart action, and anthologized on the album that turned out to be Owens’ last Capitol release, The Best of Buck Owens, Vol. 6. The remaining tracks, shelved for more than forty years, are released here in their original running order, from the master tapes, for the first time. Both singles and their B-sides are included alongside liner notes by Scott B. Bomar and new interviews with Buckaroo Jim Shaw, and songwriters Robert John Jones and Dennis Knutson.

The album opens with Homer Joy’s New Orleans-tinged “John Law.” Joy played an important role in Owens’ career as the writer of his comeback vehicle “Streets of Bakersfield,” and here he writes a tale of a colorful night in a county jail. The song’s opening lyric tips its hat to Don Rich, who plays guitar on this 1973 track. By this point in Owens’ career, he wasn’t writing much, but he collected good material from RJ Jones, Jim Shaw, David Knutson and David Frizzell. Though still grieving the loss of Don Rich, he puts on a brave face for a few up-tempo numbers, but really digs into the sad songs of cheating spouses, lost souls and fraying relationships. The title track’s reminiscence, written by Jim Shaw and RJ Jones, proved dear to Owens as he thought back on the road traveled with Rich and the Buckaroos, and “A Different Kind of Sad,” again by RJ Jones, could easily have been written for Owens about Rich.

Owens’ distress eventually sapped his drive for recording, but it never dented his talent or star power. The mood here is more sedate than the explosive performances of his early, groundbreaking years, but Owens poured his sorrow into his singing, and found enough resonance with this material to re-record many of these songs for Warner Bros. The studio hands that backed those later recordings, though Nashville pros, didn’t muster the deep connection that Owens found with his Buckaroos, and Owens himself didn’t sound as emotionally invested as he had on these original drafts. After more than forty years, it’s a real treat for Owens’ many fans to have this album finally released. It’s a more fitting bookend to his Capitol career than a sixth volume of hits, and shows that even amid in his personal and professional grief he found solace in music. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

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