Posts Tagged ‘Bakersfield’

Dwight Yoakam: Live from Austin, TX

Saturday, August 12th, 2017

Dwight Yoakam at the peak of his commercial success

This October 1988 date found Yoakam headlining a bill with his hero and mentor, Buck Owens. Yoakam had rescued Owens from self-imposed retirement earlier in the year, and together they topped the chart with a remake of Owens’ “Streets of Bakersfield.” The day before the show, Yoakam’s third album, Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room, crested at #1 on the Billboard country chart, and it would go on to net Grammy, ACM and CMA awards. Owens opened the show with a tight 30 minute set (available on a companion volume), with Yoakam joining him for “Under Your Spell Again.” Owens returned the favor during Yoakam’s set to sing their recent chart topper.

Yoakam’s set combined selections from his first three albums, mixing original material with covers of songs by Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman (“Little Sister”), Homer Joy (“Streets of Bakersfield”), Johnny Cash (“Home of the Blues”), Johnny Horton (“Honky Tonk Man”), Lefty Frizzell (“Always Late With Your Kisses”) and Stonewall Jackson (“Smoke Along the Track”). His original material included nearly all of his hits to that point, as well as several album tracks. The band is superb, with Pete Anderson’s guitar and Scott Joss’ fiddle really standing out. Yoakam turns on the sex appeal as he introduces the sultry “What I Don’t Know,” the band turns up the heat for “Please, Please Baby” and “Little Sister,” and the audience joins in enthusiastically to close “Honky Tonk Man.”

As on the duet sung together in Owens’ set, the happiness shared by Yoakam and Owens in teaming up for “Streets of Bakersfield” is palpable – Owens reveling in the new artistic partnership that rekindled his interest in music, and Yoakam in working with his idol and mentor. Each has such a distinct voice, that the delight in hearing them sing together continues to rise as they swap verses and share the chorus. Flaco Jimenez joins the band onstage and stays to accentuate the sorrow of “Buenas Noches From a Lonely Room,” with Joss’ fiddle and Anderson’s low strings adding mournful notes. Yoakam tells several stories on the DVD that are elided on the CD, including an account of his first meeting with Johnny Cash.

The partnership between Yoakam and Anderson was incredibly fruitful, both artistically and commercially, but it wasn’t always easy to see past Yoakam’s charisma to Anderson’s immense talent as a guitarist. But here, even with Yoakam center stage, you can’t help but be drawn to Anderson’s licks as he solos on “Home of the Blues,” hot picks the closing “This Drinkin’ Will Kill Me,” and plays Yoakam on and off the stage with a twangy instrumental bumper. New West’s reissue combines the previously released CD and DVD, and it’s four-panel booklet provides credits, but no liner notes. It’s a terrific package that plays just as well on the stereo as it does on the screen. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Dwight Yoakam’s Home Page

Buck Owens: Live from Austin, TX

Saturday, August 12th, 2017

The king of the Bakersfield Sound on the comeback trail in 1988

There is no shortage of live Buck Owens recordings, but nearly all of them date to his record breaking run in the 1960s. Owens was not only a terrific songwriter, guitarist, singer, bandleader and businessman, but a gifted stage performer whose personal magnetism drew fans to his tours and to his dying day, to his beloved Crystal Palace in Bakersfield. By the time of this 1988 performance on Austin City Limits, it had been more than a decade since Owens had recused himself from his music career. The 1974 death of Don Rich had drained his enthusiasm, and with his energy focused on the radio stations he’d begun buying in the 1960s, it took an insistent Dwight Yoakam to pry Owens out of his self-imposed exile.

This October 1988 date found Owens and Yoakam on the same bill, each playing a full set and guesting on the other’s. Yoakam’s Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room had just crested at #1 on the album chart, the lead single, a duet with Owens covering “Streets of Bakersfield,” had topped the singles chart in June, and the title single from Owens’ own return to the studio, Hot Dog, would be released the following week. So there was a lot to celebrate on this Sunday night in Texas, as Owens showed that the layoff hadn’t impacted his musicality or showmanship, and that the latest edition of the Buckaroos, including keyboard player Jim Shaw, bassist Doyle Curtsinger, guitarist and steel player Terry Christofferson and drummer James McCarty, was sharp and powerful.

With sixty Top 40 hits (and more than twenty chart toppers!), Owens could barely graze the highlights of his catalog in this thirty minute set But in only 11 songs he manages to touch on classic hits, album cuts, covers of his hero Chuck Berry, and material from his upcoming album. And he does it without resorting to the medleys that had helped him squeeze more fan favorites into his live sets of the 1960s. The jangle of Owens’ silver sparkle Telecaster (which may very well have been Don Rich’s ‘66) kicks off “Act Naturally” and the band falls in behind him. Curtsinger provides the harmony foil once supplied by Don Rich, and Christofferson echoes Tom Brumley’s steel solo on “Together Again.”

Owens is in terrific voice, and his enthusiasm belies the number of times he’d performed “Love’s Gonna Live Here,” “Crying Time,” “Tiger By the Tail” and “A-11,” each remaining fresh and potent decades after they’d been introduced. Even more enticing is a duet with Yoakam on “Under Your Spell Again.” The pair don’t lock their vocals together as seamlessly as had Owens & Rich, but the joy in their voices – Owens rediscovering the joy of a singing partner, and Yoakam singing with his hero – is palpable. The single “Hot Dog,” a cover of Owens’ 1956 turn as Corky Jones, gives the band a chance to rock, as does the closing cover of “Johnny B. Goode.”

This set combines the previously released CD and DVD into one package, with the same song list shared by both formats. The four-page booklet includes credits, but no liner notes, and no remembrances from anyone involved as to how this show came together or what it meant to the participants. For the second half of the bill, including “Streets of Bakersfield,” check out the companion volume on Dwight Yoakam. Owens took this band on the road, producing the belatedly released double-disc Buck Owens Live In San Francisco 1989, but it’s hard to top a Sunday night in Texas with Buck & Dwight! [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace

Buck Owens and the Buckaroos: The Complete Capitol Singles 1957-1966

Friday, December 9th, 2016

buckowens_completecapitolsingles5766The towering Capitol singles of Buck Owens

Having already been feted with exhaustive box sets, multidisc anthologies, vault finds, tribute albums, a posthumous autobiography, and dozens of original album reissues, one might ask: what’s left to say? As it turns out: plenty. Collecting Owens’ A’s and B’s from his most commercially fertile years, this generous two-disc set replays Owens’ emergence and dominance as both a country hit maker and a maverick artist. Recording in Hollywood, two thousand miles from Nashville, he added a new chapter to the country music playbook with the driving, electric Bakersfield sound, and established himself as an iconoclastic force on the both the singles and album charts. Among the fifty-six tracks collected here are twenty-two Top 40 hits, including an astonishing string of thirteen consecutive chart toppers.

While the hits will be familiar to most, and the B-sides to many, only the most ardent Owens fans will recognize the earliest Capitol singles. This quartet of originals, waxed in 1957, sounds more like Buddy Holly-styled rock ‘n’ roll than the Bakersfield sting Owens would later develop. The low twanging guitar, sweetly phrased lead vocal and backing chorus of “Come Back” is more doo-wop than country, and its waltz-time B-side “I Know What It Means” sounds like Nashville going pop. “Sweet Thing,” co-written with Harlan Howard, has rockabilly licks supplied by guitarists Gene Moles and Roy Nichols, and its ballad B-side, “I Only Know That I Love You” has a lovely guitar solo to accompany its double-crossed lyric.

Owens returned to Capitol’s studio in 1958 with a reconstructed backing unit that included fiddler J.R. “Jelly” Sanders and Ralph Mooney on steel. It was from this session that “Second Fiddle” launched Owens onto the country chart. The same group, which also included pianist George French, Jr., bassist Al Williams and drummer Pee Wee Adams, cut a 1959 session from which “Under Your Spell Again” climbed to #4. By year’s end, Sanders was out and Don Rich was in, Harlan Howard’s “Above and Beyond” carried Owens one notch higher, to #3, and Howard and Owens’ “Excuse Me (I Think I’ve Got a Heartache)” then reached #2. The B-sides include the charting “I’ve Got a Right to Know,” and the ironic “Tired of Livin’.” Ironic, because the song’s sad-sack complaint about a lack of success was fronted by a Top 5 hit!

1961 found Owens paired with Rose Maddox for the double-sided hit “Mental Cruelty” b/w “Loose Lips,” and he just missed the top slot twice more with “Foolin’ Around” and “Under the Influence of Love.” The success of his A-sides dipped slightly in 1962, though he was still charting regularly, minting staples like “You’re For Me,” and the B-side “I Can’t Stop (My Lovin’ You).” Owens turned out an incredible amount of high quality, original material throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, winningly vacillating between sunny elation and sorrowful heartbreak. He also had an ear for other songwriters, recording albums dedicated to Harlan Howard and Tommy Collins, and charting covers of Pomus & Shuman’s “Save the Last Dance for Me” and Wanda Jackson’s “Kickin’ Our Hearts Around.”

Owens finally topped the charts in 1963 with Johnny Russell’s “Act Naturally,” kicking off a string of #1s that stretched into 1967. Incredibly, all of disc two’s singles topped the chart, except for a return duet with Rose Maddox that stalled at #15 and a 1965 Christmas single. The A-sides from this era are among the most iconic of Owens’ career, including “Love’s Gonna Live Here,” “My Heart Skips a Beat,” “I’ve Got a Tiger By the Tail,” “Waitin’ in Your Welfare Line,” “Open Up Your Heart” and Don Rich’s “Think of Me” (which became a staple for the Mavericks). The B-sides include the chart-topping “Together Again,” the stalwart “Don’t Let Her Know” and the woeful “Heart of Glass.”

The classic lineup of the Buckaroos had come together in 1964, with Owens and Rich joined by bassist Doyle Holly, drummer Willie Cantu and steel player Tom Brumley. Their chemistry was immortalized on Live at Carnegie Hall, and their instrumental skills carried “Buckaroo” to the top of the country chart. More importantly, it was this lineup that doubled down on Owens’ rejection of the Nashville Sound. The polite drum accents of 1961’s “Foolin’ Around” might have alarmed Music City’s gentry, but it was only a prelude to the more insistent tom-toms of “My Heart Skips a Beat,” Don Rich’s twangy fills and solo on “Act Naturally” and Willie Cantu’s full-kit drumming on “Before You Go.”

While Nashville was busy courting pop fans with syrupy layers of strings and choruses, Owens was stripping his sound down to guitars, bass, fiddle and drums, and riding the beat. He also bucked another Nashville standard by recording with his band, rather than picking up session players. Red Simpson sat in for a few sessions in ‘65 and ‘66, and James Burton provided the sputtering electric lead on “Open Up Your Heart,” but what you hear on all the singles from ‘64 onward are the Buckaroos. The set ends with Owens’ last hit of 1966, “Where Does the Good Times Go,” two singles shy of the end of his continuous string of #1s, and well short of the success that ran up to Don Rich’s 1974 death. Owens moved on from Capitol to Warner Brothers, and returned again in the late ‘80s, but mostly retired from the studio to run his businesses and perform on the weekends at his legendary Bakersfield club.

The singles are presented in the order of their release, and remastered in mono from the original reel-to-reels. The brightness that Owens laid into the masters remains, but with more bottom end than you likely remember from AM radio. Owens emerges from these sides as a pioneering artist who wrote, sang (often doubling himself on harmony), picked guitar and led a band that was both revolutionary and commercially successful. And with the masters having come from the Buck Owens’ estate, you can add top-flight businessman to his resume. The CD package includes a 20-page booklet highlighted by Dwight Yoakam’s introductory notes, excerpts from Owens’ autobiography, detailed personnel and session data, and label and picture sleeve reproductions. All that’s missing is ‘67-’75, so here’s hoping for a sequel! [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Buck Owens’ Home Page

Buck Owens: Buck ‘Em! Volume 2 – The Music of Buck Owens (1967-1975)

Friday, November 13th, 2015

BuckOwens_BuckEmVol2A stellar second chapter of the Buck Owens catalog

With the wealth of terrific material included on the first volume of Buck ‘Em!, a second volume had a high mark to reach. But by splitting the sets by era – 1955-67 for the first set, 1967-75 for this set – this second collection is no second helping. Volume one established Owens’ Bakersfield legacy, while this second chapter shows how he extended his reach, responded artistically to changing times, and used his commercial success to free himself of commercial restrictions. As on the first set, these two discs include hit singles, well-selected album cuts, and a sprinkling of tracks previously unreleased in the US. And also as with the first set, the liner notes are cannily drawn and craftily assembled from Owens’ like-titled autobiography, giving the artist an opportunity to expound on his own work.

By 1967 Buck Owens was one of country music’s biggest stars, having landed eight albums and twelve singles at the top of the charts in only four years. He kicked off 1967 by expanding his fame internationally with a concert in Japan and its subsequent chart-topping album. This set picks up later in the year with sessions that produced “Sweet Rosie Jones,” the like-named album, and the title track of what would become 1970’s You Mother’s Prayer. For the first time since Owens began his streak of hitmaking, the drummer’s throne was occupied by Jerry Wiggins, in place of the departed Willie Cantu. “Rosie,” “Let the World Keep On a Turnin’” (sung with Owens son, Buddy) and “I”ve Got You on My Mind Again” all charted Top 10, but it took “Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass” to get Owens back to the top spot.

Throughout 1968, Owens expanded his reach, recording the Latin and polka-styled instrumental album The Guitar Player (represented here by “Things I Saw Happening at the Fountain on the Plaza When I Was Visiting Rome or Amore”), adding Don Rich’s fuzztone guitar to “Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass,” and teaming up with Susan Raye for “We’re Gonna Get Together.” The latter, recorded in 1968 wasn’t released for two years, which hints at Owens’ incredible productivity. 1968 found Owens playing a command performance for President Johnson at the White House, represented here by “Tiger By the Tail,” and also marked the departure of steel player Tom Brumley, who was replaced early the next year by JayDee Maness. Maness would leave by year end, leaving Owens without a steel player in the band.

1969 started similarly to 1967, with an international tour that yielded the live album Buck Owens in London and the chart-topping single “Johnny B. Goode.” Live recording continued to be a regular feature of Owens’ catalog, with “Big in Vegas” (a rewrite of Terry Stafford’s “Big in Dallas”) and “Las Vegas Lament” recorded live in Las Vegas, and “Tall Dark Stranger” recorded in Scandinavia. 1969-70 saw many more changes for Owens, including a move from Capitol’s famed Los Angeles studio to his own place in Bakersfield, the arrival of keyboard player Jim Shaw (who’s terrific live piano playing can be heard on “I’ll Still Be Waiting for You”), and perhaps most importantly, Hee Haw. The latter, initially a CBS network show, provided the sort of financial compensation that records rarely did, and it freed Owens to chase his musical muse without lashing it to commercial considerations.

1970-71 saw Owens in the Top 10 with “I Wouldn’t Live in New York City (If They Gave Me the Whole Dang Town),” a cover of Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” and the title track from the bluegrass album Ruby, but it wasn’t until 1972 that he returned to the top of the charts with “Made in Japan.” Musically, Owens had moved well beyond his Bakersfield Sound, but his writing and voice, particularly the latter, provide a surprisingly straight line through his entire catalog. The twang of steel guitar rejoined the band in 1972 with the arrival of Jerry Brightman, but before he came on board, Ralph Mooney added his stellar playing to “Arms Full of Empty” and “Ain’t It Amazing, Gracie.”

Owens’ records through the mid-70s never regained the chart performance of his earlier releases, but there were still plenty of excellent albums and singles, including Gene Price’s “Something’s Wrong” and Owens’ “In the Palm of Your Hand,” the latter highlighted by Don Rich’s fiddle. Even more important was an album track that would be remade into a huge hit fifteen-years later, Homer Joy’s “Streets of Bakersfield.” The original is more sedate than the chart-topping remake Owens recorded with Dwight Yoakam, but it provided the template for the hit. Owens returned to the Top 10 in 1973-74 with a string of upbeat novelty songs, “Big Game Hunter,” “On the Cover of the Music City News” and “Monster’s Holiday,” but his mirthful side was about to go into hibernation.

In July, 1974, Don Rich, was killed in a motorcycle accident, and Owens fell into a deep depression. He’d continue to record and release records, but the latter-half of the ‘70s found his singles failing to make much of an impact on the charts. His last Top 10 single for Capitol, “Great Expectations,” was also the last to feature Don Rich. By 1981, Owens had turned his attention to his many successful business ventures, and he began a hiatus from the charts that lasted until “Streets of Bakersfield” and Dwight Yoakam reinvigorated his interest in recording and performing. In the mid-90s he built the Crystal Palace in Bakersfield, where he’d regularly perform to enthusiastic crowds and broadcast live over his own KUZZ radio.

Omnivore’s 2-CD set was remastered by Michael Graves, making this both a well-curated collection and the best reproduction of these tracks yet on CD. The 28-page booklet includes full-panel photos (including a great shot of Owens laying down the vocal for “I Wouldn’t Live in New York City” on a New York City sidewalk), and album cover reproductions. The track list includes eight recordings previously unreleased in the US: an alternate take of “Darlin’, You Can Depend on Me,” a stupendous outtake of Owens singing “Today I Started Loving You Again” with soul singer Bettye Swann and members of the Wrecking Crew, an early version of “Down in New Orleans,” and outtakes of “He Ain’t Been Out Bowling With the Boys” and “A Different Kind of Sad.” This is an essential companion to the volume one, and a must-have for any Buck Owens fan. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Buck Owens’ Home Page

Moot Davis: Goin’ in Hot

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

MootDavis_GoinInHotFine Nashville twang born of a broken heart

Davis’ fourth album, his second in partnership with producer Kenny Vaughan, expands upon the Nashville twang of 2012’s Man About Town. The influences are similar – Dwight Yoakam, Big Sandy and Raul Malo – but there’s also a helping of the Derailers’ Bakersfield hybrid and NRBQ’s irreverence. Guitarist Bill Corvino and steel player Gary Morse add plenty of twang to Davis’ songs of marginal finances, slender experience, waning sobriety and wounded hearts. Especially wounded hearts, as Davis wrote the album in the aftermath of an emotional breakup that brought forth tears, regrets and painful reminders. He croons with Nikki Lane on “Hurtin’ for Real” and struggles with the painful aftermath of “Love Hangover” and unfulfillable desires of “Wanna Go Back.” The band, which also includes bassist Michael Massimino and drummer Joey Mekler, moves easily between mid-tempo blues, country two-steps and second line shuffles, and really tears it up for the roadhouse rock of “Midnight Train” and “Ragman’s Roll.” Their flexibility recalls Commander Cody’s Lost Planet Airmen, and is a perfect match for Davis’ broadened songwriting. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

Moot Davis’ Home Page

Buck Owens: Buck ‘Em

Friday, January 10th, 2014

BuckOwens_BuckEm50 prime hits, B-sides, alternates, live tracks and rarities from 1955-1967

Proving himself as savvy in business as he was innovative in music, Buck Owens wrested control of his masters from Capitol Records in a 1970s legal battle. His ownership led to a CD reissue program on Sundazed that stretched from 1995 through 2005 and encompassed nearly two dozen original albums. Add to that multiple box sets [1 2 3 4], greatest hits discs, pre- and post-Capitol anthologies [1 2 3], and a collection of tunes recorded for Hee Haw, and you have to wonder if there’s anything left to say. The answer provided by this new double-disc set is a definitive yes. Compilation producer Patrick Milligan has done an expert job of assembling singles, album sides and rarities into a compelling fifty-track exposition of Buck Owens’ key years before and with Capitol. The set tells a familiar story, but with an idiosyncratic selection of tracks that deftly balances the many elements of Owens’ extensive catalog.

Starting with a few mid-50s sides for Pep, the collection traces Owens’ rapid evolution from a country singer with steel guitar, tinkling piano and fiddle to the king of an exciting new Bakersfield Sound. As Owens developed his unique brand of country music, the Buckaroos grew into one of the world’s premiere bands and live acts. With so many sides to their commercial success, it’s tricky to find a compelling point between the shorthand of a single-disc hits collection and a Bear Family-length box, but Omnivore’s done just that. The set succeeds by combining a well-selected helping of singles (both charting and non-charting), B-sides, live performances, duets, alternate and early takes, previously unreleased, unreleased-in-the-US and unreleased-on-CD tracks, stereo album cuts and appearances on rare compilation albums.

In addition to well-known hits rendered in their original radio-ready mono, the set includes the non-charting “Sweet Thing,” the B-side “Til These Dreams Come True,” and a sprightly early version of “Nobody’s Fool But Yours” that stands side-by-side with the better-known master. Other early versions are closer to the masters, but tentative and not yet fully gelled. It’s a treat to hear the works-in-progress and compare them to the refinements of the final takes. The early version of “My Heart Skips a Beat” is already a great song, but without Owens’ opening lyrical cadence and Mel Taylor’s tom-tom rolls, it’s not yet an indelible hit record. The alternate arrangement of “Where Does the Good Times Go” includes a happy-go-lucky string chart (courtesy of future Bread main man, David Gates) that was dropped from the final release.

By 1964 the classic Buckaroos lineup had solidified around Owens, Don Rich, Doyle Holly, Tom Brumley and Willie Cantu, and it’s this group that powers the last three tracks of disc one, and all of disc two. The quintet punched up the beat for “Gonna Have Love,” “Before You Go” and “Getting Used to Loving You,” with guitars and drums that no longer held the line on “Opry polite.” The group’s live sound has been documented across more than a half-dozen live albums (including the legendary Carnegie Hall Concert, represented here by “Together Again” and “Buckaroo,” and In Japan! represented by “Adios, Farewell, Goodbye, Good Luck, So Long” and “We Were Made For Each Other”), but Omnivore’s dug deeper to pick up a 1963 Bakersfield performance of “Act Naturally” from the rare Capitol release Country Music Hootenanny, recorded in surprisingly clear stereo.

The song list is given mostly to Owens’ terrific originals (including the instrumental “Buck’s Polka,” with Owens picking lead), but adds a good helping of gems he selected from other songwriters’ catalogs, including Eddie McDuff and Orville Couch’s “Hello Trouble,” Tommy Collins’ “Down, Down, Down,” Red Simpson’s “Close Up the Honky Tonks,” Eddie Miller and Bob Morris “Playboy,” and Johnny Russell and Voni Morrison’s “Act Naturally.” Owens’ work as a duet singer is touched on briefly with Rose Maddox on “Sweethearts in Heaven,” but his more extensive collaboration with Susan Raye fell beyond the set’s designated ending point in 1967. The end of that year saw Willie Cantu leave the fold, and the classic lineup of the Buckaroos come to an end.

Owens and the Buckaroos continued to have both commercial and artistic success well into the mid-70s, when the death of Don Rich seems to have sidelined Owens’ initiative. With a wealth of post-67 hits and ever more far-reaching albums left to sample, hopefully Omnivore has a second volume up their sleeve. For the period they’ve selected, however, they’ve created a fresh view that expands upon shorter hits anthologies, but abbreviates the full albums into a compact telling of Owens’ most successful commercial period. There are too many essential hits missing for this to be a complete view of Owens’ genius, but as an introduction to his plain-spoken, naturally brilliant and stylistically diverse brand of country music, it’s a winner.

Those new to Owens’ catalog will be entranced by the ease with which he moved from tearful heartbreak to light-hearted humor. The album tracks don’t always match the “wow” of the missing hit singles, but they help paint the picture of an artist whose well of creativity was a great deal deeper than the two-and-a-half minutes radio would play. The accompanying 28-page booklet includes liner notes excerpted from Owens’ posthumously published, like-titled autobiography, along with several full-panel photos and cover reproductions. All of Owens other reissues – the hits collections, the box sets, the album catalog – are worth hearing, but if you want an affordable, compelling overview of his prime years, this is a great place to start. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

Hypercast #1: Americana

Saturday, November 30th, 2013

A collection of recently released country, Americana, rock and folk, plus a few catalog items for good measure. Click the artist names below for associated album reviews.

Tim O’Brien & Darrell Scott “Just One More”
Vince Gill and Paul Franklin “Nobody’s Fool But Yours”
Brian Wright “Over Yet Blues”
Escondido “Bad Without You”
Merle Haggard “The Fugitive”
Left Arm Tan “69 Reasons”
The Band of Heathens “Records in Bed”
One Mile an Hour “Sunken Ships”
Hall of Ghosts “Giant Water”
Greg Trooper “All the Way to Amsterdam”
Rick Shea “Gregory Ray DeFord”
The Barn Birds “Sundays Loving You”
Mando Saenz “Breakaway Speed”
Stewart Eastham “Crawl Up in Your Bottle”
Kris Kristofferson “Why Me”
Dwight Yoakam “Two Doors Down”
Nick Ferrio & His Feelings “Half the Time”
Kelly Willis “He Don’t Care About Me”

Various Artists: Country & Western Hit Parade 1966

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

Various_CountryAndWesternHitParade1966The 1966 country jukebox of your dreams

The passing of decades often elides the full range of music that spun on jukeboxes and the radio. The commercial necessities of CD (and now MP3) reissue and oldies broadcasting further reinforce this narrow view with hit anthologies and playlists stocked primarily with superstars. What quickly recedes from earshot are the lesser hits and journeyman artists that made up the full context of the times. Faintly remembered are artists like Nat Stuckey, who regularly visited the Top 40 for more than a decade, but only cracked the top-ten a few times, and indelible acts like The Browns are usually recognized for their sole chart-topper, “The Three Bells,” rather than their other half-dozen Top 10s. Even country music’s superstars, such as Faron Young, Eddy Arnold and Ray Price, had so many hits that the bulk of their work is overshadowed by a few well-anthologized icons.

But the true soundtrack of a year’s music is a mix of hits, album tracks, superstars, journeymen, one-hit wonders, chart-toppers, regional breakouts and singles that barely grazed the Top 40. It’s this tapestry that gives a year, an era or a genre its full flavor. Bear Family’s twenty-six volume series Country & Western Hit Parade covers the years 1945 through 1970, one year per disc, interweaving chart classics with a wealth of lesser-anthologized, but equally influential releases. Each disc recreates the sound of its year by placing oft-repeated hits in the company of their lesser-known chartmates, providing context to the former and returning status to the latter.

The mid-60s were a transitional time for country music, with the Los Angeles-based Country & WesternMusicAcademy (later rebranded the ACM) exerting a West Coast pull with the introduction of their all-country awards show. In addition to Nashville’s cross-over pop, torch ballads, 4/4 Ray Price beats and a sprinkle of throwback honky-tonk, 1966 found Bakersfield in full flight, with Buck Owens in the middle of releasing fourteen-straight chart toppers and Merle Haggard starting a series of sixty-one Top 10s, including his first #1, “The Fugitive.” Billboard’s expanded country chart and a refined method of measuring radio play led to faster chart turnover, an increased number of charting titles, and greater opportunity for new acts to break through. Jeannie Seely had her first (and biggest) hit with “Don’t Touch Me,” Mel Tillis broke through with “Stateside,” and Tammy Wynette scored with her first single, “Apartment #9.”

At the same time, veteran acts were winding down or changing direction. The Browns’ “I’d Just Be Fool Enough” was their next-to-last Top 20, and Eddy Arnold fully committed himself to middle-of-the-road pop with “I Want to Go With You.” The latter, though written by Hank Cochran, has a chorus and strings that overwhelm the hint of country in Floyd Cramer’s slip-note piano. Waylon Jennings’ “Anita You’re Dreaming” still bore Chet Atkins’ countrypolitan touches (including a marimba played by Ray Stevens), and though it would be another half-decade until he fully broke free of Nashville’s control, the seeds were being planted. Loretta Lynn found her feisty, personal songwriting voice  with “You Ain’t Woman Enough” and her first chart topper, “Don’t Come Home A Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind).”

In addition to charting entries, this volume includes Johnny Paycheck’s outré album track “(Pardon Me) I’ve Got Someone to Kill,” Dallas Frazier’s original non-charting single of “Elvira,” and the original demo of “Distant Drums” that (with the appropriate Nashville dubbing) became a posthumous chart topper for Jim Reeves. The list of artists is complemented by a who’s who Nashville and West Coast A-list session players and country songwriters that include Cindy Walker, Tompall Glaser, Harlan Howard, Hank Cochran, Bill Anderson, Loretta Lynn, Roger Miller, Merle Haggard, Mickey Newbury, Dallas Frazer, Mel Tillis, Jack Clement, Johnny Paycheck, Liz Anderson and Waylon Jennings. Bear Family’s exquisitely selected 31-tracks (clocking in at 83 minutes) are amplified by the label’s attention to detail in sound (original stereo except for 9, 12, 17, 22, 28 and 32), documentation and packaging. Each disc is housed in a hardbound book with 71 pages of liners, color photos and song notes. The set’s only disappointment is the unnecessarily difficult cardboard sleeve in which the disc is housed; deal with it once and keep the disc in a separate case. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

Vince Gill & Paul Franklin: Bakersfield

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

VinceGill_BakersfieldSterling tribute to Buck Owens and Merle Haggard

Tribute albums are a tricky proposition. Play it too close and you add nothing of your own; take too many liberties and you lose touch with the object of your affection. Finding a middle ground that honors the original performances, adds something new and echoes both the celebrated and celebrant is one of the most delicate balancing acts in music. To best accomplish this, you need to have absorbed an artist’s music into your roots, so that your own path of discovery carries the DNA of these influences even as you develop your unique variations. Recorded country music has a long history of meaningful tips of a ten gallon hat, and such is the case for this heartfelt tribute to Buck Owens and Merle Haggard from singer-guitarist Vince Gill and steel guitarist Paul Franklin.

Both Gill and Franklin took to the Bakersfield sound and the songs of Owens and Haggard at very young ages, spurred to dig deeper into music by the revolutionary sounds coming out of Bakersfield in the 1960s. Between Gill and Franklin, they’re able to cover three of the key elements of Owens’ and Haggard’s records: vocals, guitar and steel. Gill’s always had one of the sweetest voices in contemporary country music, but it’s still surprising how easily and equally it lends itself to both singers’ music. He sings his own harmony on the Owens’ tunes, just as Owens had done on his own studio recordings, and adds telecaster sting, including the chicken pickin’ and stuttering leads that bring to mind James Burton and Roy Nichols.

Franklin’s steel provides Gill the perfect partner, adding the twangy instrumental voice that gave Owens’ and Haggard’s music its unapologetic country sound. He pays tribute to Tom Brumley and Ralph Mooney, as does pretty much every player who touches a steel guitar, but with his own twists to signature solos such as Brumley’s masterpiece on “Together Again.” The song list combines several of Owens’ and Haggard’s most familiar hits – “Foolin’ ‘Round,” “Branded Man,” “Together Again,” “The Bottle Let Me Down” and “The Fightin’ Side of Me” – with well selected catalog gems. The latter are highlighted by Owens’ 1966 two-stepping album side “He Don’t Deserve You Anymore” and Haggard’s pained 1974 “Holding Things Together.”

Gill has recorded many great records, both as a chart-topping hit maker in the ’90s and as an album auteur in the last decade. Franklin’s been one of Nashville’s most prolific session players, spreading his commercial and artistic successes across hundreds of records. But playing the material that fueled their imaginations as youngsters clearly lights a spark in each of them. Their balance between fidelity and liberty is just right, with the heart of each song filigreed with changes that are often small, but meaningful. Gill and Franklin each bring their own style to the record, but they are styles which grew partly in Bakersfield soil. The album’s only disappointment is the short ten track song list; a number that’s particularly small when drawing from the lengthy catalogs of two country music giants. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

Vince Gill’s Home Page
Paul Franklin’s Home Page

Don Rich: That Fiddlin’ Man

Saturday, August 17th, 2013

DonRich_ThatFiddlinManThe Buckaroos’ main man steps to the front with his fiddle

Though it was Buck Owens’ name that appeared on the marquee, he’d have been the first to say that the marquees would have been a lot smaller without his right-hand man Don Rich leading the Buckaroos. Rich was an ace guitarist, harmony singer, songwriter and fiddler, and just as responsible for creating the Bakersfield Sound as Owens, Haggard or Wynn Stewart. Though he’s best known for his stinging Telecaster, he joined Buck Owens as a fiddler, and can be heard threading his strings around Owens’ vocals as early as 1961’s “Excuse Me (I Think I’ve Got a Heartache).” He’d pick up the lion’s share of the Buckaroos’ guitar work a couple of years later, but he never gave up the fiddle.

Rich cut albums backing Owens, with the Buckaroos and as a soloist, but this 1971 title is the only one to be released under his own name during his lifetime (a second album was posthumously released earlier this year as Don Rich Sings George Jones). The ten tracks were culled from previously released Owens and Buckaroos albums ranging from 1963’s On the Bandstand to 1970’s Boot Hill. The picks were surprisingly old-fashioned, with little of the kick that the Buckaroos brought to country music. Omnivore’s first-ever CD reissue adds ten more tracks drawn from similiar sources, but the selections highlight more of the Buckaroos’ instrumental sting. Rich’s fiddle is featured on each track, and his melodic lines are often drawn upon by the steel, dobro and guitar for their own spotlights.

Rich shows his fiddling prowess across a wide range of material and settings, with an especially evocative lead on the ballad “Faded Love” and a mid-tempo take on “Greensleeves” that may be the only version that invites you to two-step. Of the album’s original ten titles, Rich is especially fetching on the Louisiana-rooted numbers “Louisiana Waltz,” “Down on the Bayou” and “Cajun Fiddle.” Drawn from the Buckaroos’ most fertile period, these tracks find Rich backed by lineups that include Tom Brumley, Doyle Holly, Willie Cantu, Earle Poole Ball, Buddy Emmons, Doyle Curtsinger and Jerry Wiggins. Rich may be best remembered for his guitar and voice, but his fiddle was an important part of the Buckaroos’ sound, and here it’s given its just due. [©2013 Hyperbolium]