After a pair of double-disc sets covering Owensâ€™ trailblazing, chart topping singles of 1957-1966 and 1967-1970, Omnivore closes out the Bakersfield legendâ€™s run on Capitol with this superb third volume. Owensâ€™ early â€˜70s singles didnâ€™t repeat the commercial dominance of his 1960s output, but several still landed in the upper reaches of the charts (and at #1 with Bob and Faye Morrisâ€™ â€œMade in Japanâ€), and demonstrated continued creativity. The early â€˜70s were a time of artistic exploration for Owens as he recorded in his then-newly built Bakersfield studio, produced himself, covered material from outside the country realm, and stretched out from his classic Telecaster-and-steel sound to incorporate pop, bluegrass and gospel. As this set attests, his declining chart fortunes were more a product of changing public tastes and industry trends than a slip in artistry.
Owens opened 1971 with a moving cover of â€œBridge Over Troubled Water,â€ featuring a solemn vocal, acoustic guitar and atmospheric backing harmonies that take the song to a different emotional place than Simon & Garfunkelâ€™s original. He showed off his omnivorous musical appetite and sense of humor with a southern-funk take on Jimmy Driftwoodâ€™s â€œBattle of New Orleansâ€ a transformation of Shel Silversteinâ€™s â€œThe Cover of the Rolling Stoneâ€ into the country-styled â€œOn the Cover of the Music City News,â€ a loping bluegrass arrangement of Cousin Emmyâ€™s â€œRuby, Are You Mad at Your Manâ€ and an energetic version of the traditional â€œRollinâ€™ in My Sweet Babyâ€™s Arms.â€ The latter two expanded the Buckaroosâ€™ musical palette with the addition of Ronnie Jacksonâ€™s banjo.
The biggest hits in this five year span came from the pens of others, but Owens continued to write fresh material for himself. He cracked the Top 10 with â€œGreat Expectations,â€ and the novelties â€œBig Game Hunterâ€ andÂ â€œ(Itâ€™s A) Monsterâ€™s Holiday,â€ and further down the chart he scored with the defeated â€œIn the Palm of Your Hand,â€ the discontented â€œArms Full of Empty,â€ the defiant â€œYou Ainâ€™t Gonna Have Olâ€™ Buck to Kick Around No Moreâ€ and the happy-go-lucky â€œAinâ€™t It Amazing, Gracie.â€ Owens clearly had fuel left in his songwriting tank, even if country radio and the listening public werenâ€™t paying as close attention as they had the previous decade.
Owensâ€™ songwriting prowess can also be heard in B-sides that include the Mexicali-tinged waltz â€œBlack Texas Dirtâ€ and the steel and fiddle heartbreak of â€œI Love You So Much It Hurts.â€ He picked up excellent material from Terry Clements, John English, Dennis Knutson, Robert John Jones and Buckaroos Jim Shaw, including â€œ(Iâ€™m Goinâ€™) Home,â€ â€œ41st Street Lonely Hearts Club,â€ and his last Capitol single, â€œCountry Singerâ€™s Prayer.â€ With the 1974 death of Don Rich having deeply dented his enthusiasm for music making, his waning commercial success led him to a mutual parting of the ways with Capitol (who shelved his last album in the process). He signed with Warner Brothers for a pair of albums that garnered middling chart success before he slipped into a hiatus that lasted much of the 1980s.
Omnivoreâ€™s double disc set includes the Aâ€™s and Bâ€™s of all 21 singles that Owens released on Capitol from 1971 to 1975, both with the Buckaroos, and in duets with his son Buddy and his protege Susan Raye. The latter includes charting covers of the Brownsâ€™ â€œLooking Back to Seeâ€ (with a twangy steel solo from Ralph Mooney) and Mickey & Sylviaâ€™s â€œLove is Strange,â€ and a re-recording of â€œThe Good Old Days (Are Here Again),â€ a song that Owens had released as a Buckaroos-backed B-side just two months earlier. The 16-page booklet includes liner notes by Scott Bomar, photos, picture sleeve reproductions, and detailed release, chart and personnel data. This is a worthy capstone to Owensâ€™ monumental career at Capitol, and an essential volume for fans of his music. [Â©2019 Hyperbolium]