Tag Archives: Honky Tonk

Eddy Arnold: Complete Original #1 Hits

Loretta LynnAll twenty-eight of Eddy Arnold’s chart-topping singles

For most artists, a twenty-eight track collection of their biggest chart hits would be a fair representation of their commercial success. In Eddy Arnold’s case, twenty-eight #1 singles only very lightly skims the surface of nearly thirty-nine consecutive years of chart success that stretched from 1945 through 1983 (he struck out, though not without a few good swings, in 1958). A singer of such renown inspires numerous reissues and collections, including hefty Bear Family boxes (1 2), but this is the first set to include his entire run of chart-toppers, from 1946’s “What is Life Without Love” through 1968’s “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye.” Within that 25-year span, Arnold evolved from a twangy country star in the ’40s to a Nashville Sound innovator and resurgent chart-topper in the mid-60s.

Arnold was always more of a crooner than a honky-tonker, and even when singing upbeat tunes like “A Full Time Job,” you can hear pop stylings edging into his held notes. 1953’s “I Really Don’t Want to Know” drops the fiddle and steel, and is sung in a folk style to acoustic guitar, bass and male backing vocals. 1955’s “Cattle Call” finds Arnold yodeling a remake of Tex Owens’ 1934 tune, a song he’d recorded previously in 1944. The new version featured orchestrations by Hugo Winterhalter and signaled crossover intentions that would come to full fruition a full decade later. Arnold’s chart success dimmed in the face of rock ‘n’ roll’s rise, but by 1960 he’d regained a foothold, and by mid-decade he’d transitioned fully to countrypolitan arrangements.

In 1965 Arnold once again topped the charts with “What’s He Doing in My World” and his signature “Make the World Go Away.” Backed by strings, burbling bass lines, the Anita Kerr Singers and Floyd Kramer’s light piano, Arnold rode out the decade with a string of Top 10s and his last five chart toppers. He pushed towards an easier sound, but his vocals always retained a hint of his Tennessee Plowboy roots, differentiating him from more somnambulistic singers like Perry Como. Real Gone’s collection includes an eight-page booklet with liner notes from Don Cusic and remastering by Maria Triana. Tracks 1-21 are in their original mono, tracks 22-28 in their original true stereo. Though there’s a great deal more to be told, a spin through Arnold’s chart toppers provides a truly satisfying introduction to his catalog. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

Eddy Arnold Fan Site

Wayne Hancock: Ride

WayneHancock_RideJuke-joint swing, twangy honky-tonk and hot rock ‘n’ roll

Wayne Hancock’s been making great albums since he introduced himself with 1995’s Thunderstorms and Neon Signs. His vocal similarity to Hank Sr. hasn’t abated a bit in the subsequent eighteen years, nor has his fealty to the basic elements of Williams’ brand of twangy honky-tonk and haunted sorrow. But Hancock is more a man out of time than a throwback, and though his music takes on a nostalgic tint amidst Nashville’s contemporary style, he makes the case that the sounds he champions are timeless. He sparks terrific performances from his guitarists (Eddie Biebel, Tjarko Jeen and Bob Stafford), steel player (Eddie Rivers) and bassist (Zack Sapunor), and he sounds happy to be singing,l even when he’s singing the blues.

Hancock’s spent the past few years touring, riding his Harley and getting divorced. The latter has turned his music into an essential salve, and though he sings “it’s best to be alone than be in love,” he’s more likely to pine than actually swear off romance. The album opens at highway speed as Hancock tries to outrun his heartache with an open road, a full throttle and dueling electric guitar solos. He’s soon again singing the blues, low-down and alone, but the tears in his voice can’t disguise the pleasure he gains from vocalizing his troubles, a pleasure shared with anyone who gives this album a spin. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

Wayne Hancock’s Home Page

Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives: Nashville Volume 1 – Tear the Woodpile Down

A masterful country album from Marty Stuart

Marty Stuart is a living, breathing link to the heart and soul of country music. His voice is authentic, his songs weave new threads into the existing historical tapestry, and his band is as sharp as the Buckaroos in their prime. This latest album demonstrates how strongly Stuart connects to the headwaters and multiple tributaries that have flowed in and out of country’s main branch, with music that is possessed by Bakersfield sting, Memphis rockabilly, Nashville steel, Bluegrass harmonies and Appalachian strings. It’s a fitting follow-up to 2010’s Ghost Train, and a nice addition to a string of albums, starting with 1999’s thematic The Pilgrim, that’s included country, gospel, bluegrass and honky-tonk.

It’s no accident that Stuart’s pictured playfully taunting a young lion cub on the album cover, as he was that very cub upon arriving in Nashville in 1972. He may have grown into the role of historian and elder statesmen, but his intellectual knowledge of country music never obscures his first-hand experience. The wide-eyed desire he originally brought to Nashville is still evident as the band blazes through the title track. Their frenetic twin guitar lead, twanging steel and faith-tinged backing vocals are as hot as the song’s beat, and they step it up another notch for the Larry Collins-Joe Maphis styled guitar duet “Hollywood Boogie.” Across electric waltzes, steel ballads and country rockers, Stuart sings of the hard climb, heartbreak, failure and fleeting success that greet Nashville transplants.

Stuart threads his theme through both his originals and a couple of covers. The wizened “A Matter of Time” might have originally been about a lost lover, but here it reads about the loss of a muse, and a solo cover of Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton’s “Holding on to Nothing” suggests a disillusioned singer letting go of his Nashville dream. Stuart characterizes his arrival in Music City as the downbeat of his life’s journey, but that trip hasn’t always been a straight line. Stuart faced down his demons more than a decade ago, but he still carries the pain of wasted years having once turned Nashville into a lonely place. The album closes on a somber note with Stuart and Hank III joining together for Hank Sr.’s “Picture from Life’s Other Side.”

Over the past decade, Stuart’s music has glowed ever brighter with a renewed fealty to country’s roots, the hard-earned perspective of a 40-year career and the gathered knowledge of an historian. He’s surrounded himself with likeminded players who’ve got the background and chops to cut loose without cutting themselves off from tradition. There’s precious little music like this being made anywhere, but particularly little in Nashville’s recording studios. As Stuart writes in his superb liner notes, “Today, the most outlaw thing you can possibly do in Nashville, Tennessee is play country music.” The marketing suits on music row may not care, but playing country music is just what Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives do, and do very, very well. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | Tear the Woodpile Down
Marty Stuart’s Home Page

Sheb Wooley: White Lightnin’

Boogie, swing and honky-tonk from 1945 to 1959

To those weaned on Wooley’s 1958 chart-topping rock ‘n’ roll novelty, “Purple People Eater,” his acting roles in High Noon, Giant and Rio Bravo, or his tenure in a featured slot on television’s Rawhide, the totality of his recording career may come as something of a surprise. Starting in the mid-40s on the Nashville-based Bullet label, moving on to the Fort Worth-based Blue Bonnet, and settling in with the coastal MGM label, Wooley recorded a wealth of country, boogie, swing and honky-tonk sides, both under his own name, and as a parodist, under the name of Ben Colder. He topped the charts a second time – the country chart, this time – with 1962’s “That’s My Pa,” and continued to score with singles throughout the rest of the decade.

Wooley’s acting career sustained him financially, but it was his move to Hollywood – ostensibly to break in to the movies as a singing cowboy – that shaped the sound of his records. Recording in California, he was backed by many of the same West Coast musicians (including Speedy West, Jimmy Bryant and Cliffie Stone) that played on Capitol sessions for Merle Travis, Tex Ritter and Tennessee Ernie Ford. But even before he got to California, Wooley was recording dance tunes like his steel-swing “Oklahoma Honky Tonk Girl” and the fiddle-led “Peepin’ Through the Keyhole (Watching Jole Blon).” He sang his upbeat tunes with a smile, stringing together clever wordplay on “Lazy Mazy” that echoes the hipster jazz sides of the late ‘30s. And even when he wasn’t writing parodies, he often wrote with humor, such as the troubled date of “Wha’ Hoppen to Me, Baby” and doghouse lodgings of “Rover Scoot Over.”

The two 1959 sides that close the set showcase different sides of Wooley. The driller-themed “Roughneck” has a rockabilly beat, while the hit single “That’s My Pa” is a talking blues novelty that anticipates “A Boy Named Sue.” The all-mono audio shows only minimal surface noise on some of the earliest sides, and noise reduction is so discreet as to be inaudible. The digipack is decorated with vibrant graphics, and the 31-page booklet includes photos, poster and label reproductions, a detailed discography (including label, recording dates and personnel) and liner notes by Todd Everett. This is a great look at Wooley’s boogie sides, and compliments Bear Family volumes that focus on western tunes and rockin’ sides, as well as their 4-CD box set. But for an introduction to Wooley’s country and honky-tonk sides, this is a great place to start. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]

Moot Davis: Man About Town

Hard country twang from a well-traveled New Jerseyan

You can pretty much guess you’re in for a good time when an artist shares the album cover with his Telecaster. Don’t let the modern décor and long tie fool you – this twangy country music would be just as comfortable wearing a bolo as it spins around a honky-tonk floor. Davis is a New Jersey boy, but with time spent in Austin and this Kenny Vaughan-produced third album recorded in Nashville, he’s a lot more Hank than Bruce. Better yet, Vaughan and his Fabulous Superlative cohorts (Paul Martin and Harry Stinson) chip in expert backing alongside Chris Scruggs’ steel and Hank Singer’s fiddle, rocking  like the Domino Kings and other great roots bands that came out of Springfield, MO.

Vaughan’s productions balance the hard country twang of telecaster and steel with touches of twelve string and Spanish-flavored guitar. Davis’ voice melds a number of influences, including the disconsolation of Hank Sr., the trill of Big Sandy, and the dramatic balladeering of Dwight Yoakam, Chris Isaak and Raul Malo. The tic-tac guitar and train rhythm of “How Long” are pure Johnny Cash, but Davis sings in a higher register that takes the song in a different direction, and the driving drums and slide guitar of “Queensbury Rules” bring to mind the street-smart 1980s rock ‘n’ roll of the Del-Lords. Davis duets winningly with Elizabeth Cook (who sounds like Kelly Willis here) on “Crazy in Love with You” and brings a honky-tonk croon to “Only You.”

Davis writes of derailed careers, trouble on the road, love, disillusion and broken hearts. The latter takes original turns with the bullfighting imagery of  “Fade to Gold,” and the boxing allusions of “Queensbury Rules.” His two murder ballads, “Black & White Picture” and “Memory Lane,” are mysterious and dark. The former hinges on the fatalistic pairing of wedding bands and .44s in a pawnshop display; the latter explores the aftermath’s everlasting prison of memories. Vaughan backs Davis with everything from classic honky-tonk shuffles to spare slide guitar, making this a great showcase for a New Jerseyan who’s songs are more Cumberland than Hudson. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | Day the World Shook My Hand
Moot Davis’ Home Page

Justin Haigh: People Like Me

Texas-based newcomer sings throwback honky-tonk

Newcomer Justin Haigh open his new album with a terrific single, “All My Best Friends.” His original tune pulls together classic country word play (“all my best friends are behind bars”), a clever roll of call brands and throwback twang that’s heavy on the fiddle and steel. His spirit friends visit a second time for the mid-tempo two-step blues, “Jack Daniels on Ice,” a song that finds Haigh sitting out a chilly situation at home in the welcoming confines of his local bar. Raised on a South Dakota ranch, Haigh was steeped in Merle, Waylon, Lefty and Hank from a young age, and after a restless adolescence he resettled in Texas. Haigh’s working class roots are proudly declared and staunchly defended in the album’s title track, and nods to Waylon Jennings with some terrific guitar figures.

Producer Lew Curatolo balances the throwback numbers with a few ballads and up-tempo tunes lined by contemporary rock guitars. The latter may draw radio play, but it’s drowning one’s sorrows, breaking one’s vows (“Is It Still Cheating,” co-written by Jamey Johnson) and doing one’s time (“In Jail”) that give this debut its real kick. Haigh’s voice often resembles Tracy Lawrence, but on Mary Gauthier’s “I Ain’t Leaving” he musters the sort of strength plied by George Strait. His second nod to Jennings adds an Allman Brothers flavor to a cover of “Rose in Paradise,” and the album closes with Kevin Higgins’ “Gathering Dust,” declaring long-term dedication to the musical road upon which Haigh is embarking. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Justin Haigh’s Home Page

Mel Tillis: The Best of Mel Tillis – The Columbia Years

The missing chapter of Mel Tillis’ singing career

A decade before Mel Tillis found 1970s fame as a singer on Kapp and MGM, he recorded a number of terrific, often adventurous sides for Columbia. Tillis had been writing hits for years charting sides with Webb Pierce, Bobby Bare, Stonewall Jackson and others, but his own singles, including “The Violet and a Rose” and “Sawmill,” found only limited success. Legacy’s 24-track collection, a digital download reissue of Collectors’ Choice’ out-of-print CD, is a treasure-trove of Tillis originals, many co-written with Wayne Walker. Many of these titles were hits for other singers, including eight for Pierce, and while it’s a treat to find Tillis’ original versions of “Honky Tonk Song,” “Holiday for Love” and “A Thousand Miles Ago,” it’s even more interesting to hear the range of styles he tried out. There are Louvin-inspired harmonies inn “Georgia Town Blues,” a twangy proto-rock guitar in the tall tale “Loco Weed,” a calypso beat for “Party Girl,” and a cover of “Hearts of Stone” (which was also recorded by Elvis Presley, Connie Francis and Red Foley) that has wailing sax and Cameo-Parkway styled backing vocals. Tillis’ lack of hits at Columbia no doubt contributed to his stylistic flexibility, and though he sounds most deeply at home on honky-tonk sides “Heart Over Mind” (a hit for Ray Price) and “Tupelo County Jail,” he remained engaged and enthusiastic when singing the Johnny Horton styled historical tale “Ten Thousand Drums” and teen tunes like “It’s So Easy.” Tillis would found tremendous fame as a singer and personality in the 1970s, but these earlier sides for Columbia show convincingly that his success in the spotlight should have come much sooner. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Mel Tillis’ Home Page

Dolly Parton: Wanted

Rare and previously unreleased early Dolly Parton tracks

Though the first three tracks of this collection are sung by an unknown vocalist, the remaining sixteen are by all accounts sung by Dolly Parton. More importantly, seven of these tunes (tracks 4-10) are rare, previously unreleased tracks that appear to be from Parton’s years with Monument. The remaining ten tracks are drawn from her out-of-print Monument albums Hello I’m Dolly and As Long as I Love. Though no credits are provided, the seven newly discovered tracks sound as if they were recorded during the pre-RCA years in which Parton tried out country ballads and honky tonk, often with pop, jazz, folk and blues inflections. Several of the songs were recorded by other singers (George Morgan recorded “Not From My World,” Kitty Wells issued a single of “Only Me and My Hairdresser Knows” and Tammy Wynette waxed “Send Me No Roses” for a 1967 album), but this appears to be the first time that Parton’s versions have been widely released. Though the audio quality is variable (better for the unreleased cuts than the previously released album tracks), this is a real treat for Dolly Parton fans, and one that may not be on the market for long. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Jesse Dayton: One for the Dance Halls

Heartfelt Texas dance hall honky-tonk

The Texas-born Jesse Dayton was weaned on classic country, taking particular interest in the sounds of George Jones and Lefty Frizzell, and the firebrand individualism of Waylon, Willie and the boys. He developed a presence in the alt.country world as his 2001 release Hey Nashvegas seemed to both critique and court Music City. The album’s mainstream touches couldn’t hide lyrics more deeply personal than the typical Nashville songwriting appointment could produce, and his underlying fealty to rockabilly, honky-tonk, Cajun and latin sounds was similarly out of step with country radio hits. Though he released an album of soul-tinged country in 2004 and an album of covers in 2006, he dropped off of many country music fans’ radar. But Dayton didn’t stop making music.

In 2005 Dayton released Banjo & Sullivan: The Ultimate Collection 1972-1978 as a fictional aside to Rob Zombie’s Devil’s Rejects, went on to contribute songs to the Halloween 2 soundtrack, recorded a follow-on as Captain Clegg, and released a superb album of hardcore honky-tonk duets, Holdin’ Our Own, with Brennen Leigh. Dayton doubles-down on the honky-tonk roots on this latest album, cranking out the sort of shuffles, two-steps and waltzes that make Texas dance halls such special places to listen, dance, romance and drink away one’s problems. The opener perfectly captures the magical feeling of a Saturday night, spinning away your aches and pains, taking a smoke break in the dirt parking lot, and tipping the band (with cash or a drink) for that special song.

The rhythm section sets the pace, but Warren Hood’s fiddle and Nat Flemming’s pedal steel supercharge the performances. Dayton revs things up with the freewheeling hoe-down “Camden Town,” and though he might be a quart low on love, he hangs on to his optimism with “Pretty Girls Make the World Go ‘Round.” Things aren’t so sunny for the bloodshot morning-after of Nick Lowe’s “Lately I’ve Let Things Slide” or the chilly relations of Billy Donahue’s “Back to Back.” Damon Bramblet’s “Falling Apart” is given a two-step beat that improves upon the Johnny Cash train rhythm of the original, and Bramblett’s anniversary waltz, “The Years,” is sung with an emotional quaver aside Mickey Raphael’s harmonica.

Thursday night gigs at Austin’s Broken Spoke have honed Dayton into the very thing he most admired as a child: a country singer. His voice has deepened and weathered favorably over the years, getting him closer to Dale Watson territory. Brennan Leigh provides the perfect vocal foil, particularly in duet on “Falling Apart.” The album has the arc of a live set, mixing two-steps, ballads and closing with the Western swing of “Texas Bound.” You can easily imagine the dancers taking one more whirl around the floor before heading out to their pickup trucks, the band packing up, and everyone going home feeling satisfied. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | One for the Dance Halls
Jesse Dayton’s Home Page
Jesse Dayton’s MySpace Page
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The Derailers: Live! From Texas

The Derailers tear up the honky-tonks!

When the Austin-based Derailers broke out with 1996’s Jackpot, their Bakersfield twang reawakened the ears of many honky-tonk fans. The band’s main inspiration, Buck Owens, was still holding down a weekend gig at his Crystal Palace, but it was the Derailers who took their Fender guitars on the road and stirred up dance floors coast to coast. The band wrote killer original material, picked some mean guitar and sang with the conviction of Owens, Merle Haggard and Wynn Stewart. As the band evolved they took on other characteristics of Owens and his Buckaroos, tipping their hat to pop music with a twangy take on Prince’s “Raspberry Beret,” a driving cover of the Crystals’ “Then She Kissed Me,” and guitars that recalled both the Beach Boys and the British Invasion.

In 2003, lead singer/songwriter/guitarist Tony Villanueva left shortly after the release of Genuine (their second and last album for Sony’s Lucky Dog imprint), and the band’s co-founder, Brian Hofeldt, stepped forward to sing all of the lead vocals and write the band’s new material. The Derailers returned to the indie world and pressed on with new albums in 2006 and 2008, a Buck Owens covers record in 2007, and most importantly, years of roadwork in the honky-tonks of Texas. As good as the band’s albums have been, their live shows have always been their raison d’être. These fifteen tracks were recorded in 2009 and 2010 at Dan’s Silverleaf in Denton, TX and the legendary Gruene Hall, and provide a good feel for an evening spent in the company of a great country dance band.

The song list sticks mostly to Hofeldt’s originals, adding covers of Marty Robbins’ “Knee Deep in the Blues,” Buck Owens’ “Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass,” and Wynn Stewart’s “Come On.” Villanueva’s vocals are still missed, but Hofeldt’s grown into a truly compelling (and at times, very Owens-eque) leader and lead singer. The band has the practiced swing of a road-cured honky-tonk band, and Hofeldt doesn’t just channel Roy Orbison on “I See My Baby,” he reincarnates the loneliness that first inspired the composition. The songs easily combine country, pop and soul, and while this set is no substitute for hearing the Derailers in person, it’ll bring back great memories of your two-steps around the dance floor. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

The Derailers’ Home Page