BEST REISSUES OF 2007

The Somber Side of Porter Wagoner (digital download only)
The Essential Charlie Rich (Sony Legacy – two CDs)
Hal Lone Pine & Betty Cody – ON THE TRAIL OF LONESOME (Bear)
Rose Maddox & The Vern Williams Band – A BEAUTIFUL BOUQUET (Arhoolie)
Chet Atkins & Les Paul – CHESTER & LESTER (Sony-BMG Legacy)
Ray Price – THE ESSENTIAL RAY PRICE (Sony-BMG Legacy)
Bobby Bare – SINGS LULLABYS, LEGENDS AND LIES (Sony-BMG Legacy)

My top pick would be the Bobby Bare set, an expanded CD containing most of Bare’s recordings of songs written by Shel Silverstein – easily worth six stars on a five star scale

BEST REISSUES OF 2006

Paul’s Top Ten Reissues & Compilations of 2006
Originally presented on www.countryuniverse.com

#10
A Half Century of Hits
Jerry Lee Lewis

A nice, cross licensed compendium of all the aspects of Jerry Lee’s career: rock ‘n roller, country balladeer and certifiable lunatic. I personally like Jerry Lee the country balladeer best and this has a bunch of those tunes, although the omission of “Would You Take Another Chance On Me” is glaring.

#9
Black Mountain Rag
Doc & Merle Watson

The worst albums Doc Watson ever made were very good; the rest were excellent. This is one of the excellent ones.

#8
The Best of Shel Silverstein
Shel Silverstein

Shel was never a great singer, but he had a sense of humor that ranged from wry to wild. If any artist can be described as a “Renaissance Man”, it would be cartoonist, songwriter, poet, writer, etc., Shel Silverstein.

#7
The Complete Atlantic Sessions
Willie Nelson

After several frustrating years of being forced into the “Nashville Sound” mold by RCA, Willie found himself recording for a label not normally associated with country music. While not his best work, these recordings, stripped of Nashville Sound trappings, pointed the way for Willie’s eventual breakthrough with “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain” . “Stay All Night”, “Bloody Mary Morning” and “Phases and Stages” all gather significant airplay and, for the first time, Willie’s Django-inspired guitar work is in evidence.

#6
16 Biggest Hits
Johnny Cash & June Carter Cash

Despite being married for 35+ years, Johnny and June made relatively few true duet studio recordings. This Sony Legacy CD picks up the best of them.

#5
Steppin’ Out Kind
Grandpa Jones featuring Merle Travis

The folks at Ace, a British reissue label got it right with this collection of sides originally recorded for King during the 1940s and 1950s. A balanced set of novelties and old country ballads with lots of Grandpa’s excellent claw hammer banjo make for a tasty package.

#4
16 Biggest Hits
“Little” Jimmy Dickens

While it could have been better, this collection gives a balanced look at Jimmy’s career. Best known for his diminutive size and novelty tunes, Jimmy was a superior ballad singer as tunes such as “My Heart’s Bouquet”, “Just When I Needed You”, “Take Me As I Am (Or Let Me Go)” , “We Could” and “Violet And A Rose” amply demonstrate. Yes, the novelties are here as well as a few of the jump tunes, but it’s the ballads that will enhance your appreciation of Little Jimmy Dickens. I would like to see a more encompassing collection, including more of his hillbilly boogie and his recordings on MCA /Decca, but until that happens this is a fine collection.

#3
The Very Best of Nat Stuckey
Nat Stuckey

Nat Stuckey was a second or third tier star for RCA during the 1970s. A terrific songwriter, I have never understood why Nat Stuckey didn’t become a huge star. He was handsome, had an excellent baritone voice and had great stage presence. Despite this, his success was marginal. His most famous songs, “Waitin’ In Your Welfare Line” (Buck Owens – seven weeks at #1) and “Pop A Top” (a hit for both Jim Ed Brown and Alan Jackson) were hits for others . His own biggest hit, the #4 “Sweet Thang”, was recorded on the Paula label and today is better remembered as a Loretta Lynn-Ernest Tubb duet. None of these three songs are on this collection.

This CD collects the best recordings of his 1968-1975 tenure with RCA. Several of the songs “She Wakes Me With A Kiss Every Morning*, “Only A Woman Like You” and “Is It Any Wonder That I Love You” were #1 hits in several regional markets but none of them cracked the top ten nationwide (finishing at 11,24 & 26 respectively, although “She Wakes Me…” hit #5 on Cashbox’s charts). The biggest RCA hits were “Plastic Saddle” at #8 and “Sweet Thang and Cisco” at #9.

#2
Strangers / Swinging Doors
I’m A Lonesome Fugitive / Branded Man
Sing Me Back Home / The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde
Mama Tried / Pride In What I Am
Hag / Someday We’ll Look Back
Merle Haggard

The above were issued by Capitol Nashville. All five packages include some bonus cuts of either alternate takes or previously unreleased material, along with an informative booklet. The ten albums are among Hag’s best albums, priceless treasures all, except possibly The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde which is merely very good (but it does included “Today I Started Loving You Again” which was the B side of the single issued of the title cut). In case you are wondering about the gap between the dates of the 4th and 5th CD’s original recording dates, the Hag was indeed busy recording in late 1969 and in 1970 putting out a Jimmie Rodgers double album tribute, a Bob Wills tribute and two live albums Okie From Muskogee and Fighting Side of Me. Only the two live albums are similar enough that they would make a decent package.

It should be noted that the British BGO label has also issued many of these albums as two albums on one disc, but they lack bonus cuts and are paired up differently (BGO has a CD with Hag paired with Let Me Tell You About A Song)

#1
At San Quentin
Johnny Cash

This is a boxed set from Sony Legacy comprised of two music CDs and a DVD. The two CDs present the complete concert including, for the first time, all of the performances by the Statler Brothers, Carl Perkins and the Carter Family. The DVD is the BBC documentary which televised in both the US and the UK and focuses more on what was going on around the concert than on the actual concert itself. The original LP was criminally short; the CD reissue from 2000 gave the complete Cash performance and this gives you everything.

>>>>

There were a couple of questions posed to me at the time – here are my answers:

1) If we were doing a top 15, the Essential George Jones would have made my list as would have the Buck Owens Ultimate Collection. Both artists have a number of good collections available, particularly Jones so I didn’t consider these two reissues as crucial as some of the others. The Mattea and Jennings collections would also have been in my top 15.

There is one CD issued this year that I would have put in my top three if it wasn’t so difficult to find: THE CARTER SISTERS WITH MOTHER MAYBELLE AND CHET ATKINS. This disc is actually radio transcriptions from 1949 with some of the dialogue retained for flavor (June Carter does all almost all of the talking). The issuing company is out of the Czech Republic and it is distributed by a UK company. Terrific stuff if you can find it – and there are some other Carter Sisters volumes in the series

2) I received a question about the expanded version of Dwight Yoakam’s GUITARS, CADILLACS … album

I use several criteria in compiling a list such as this. Let’s take the Dwight Yoakam reissue:

1) Does the reissue fill a void in the marketplace ?
Dwight’s albums continuously have been available over the years

2) How recently has this material been available ?
The original album has been available in its original format & sequence until recently – you can occasionally find it new, and it is readily available used

3) How important is the artist ?
Dwight is a very important figure in country music history
Essentially, Dwight scores a checkmark in one of my three criteria – it would be a contender in my “honorable mention” category, had I made such a category.
My top ten receive at least two checkmarks, and usually all three. Nat Stuckey wasn’t particularly important as a recording artist, but he was a very good singer, and virtually no product has been available in the CD era

AMAZON REVIEWS – PART FOUR

CARL BELEW – HITS PLUS ONE’S I’VE WRITTEN
4 Stars 12/21/2005

Finally a Carl Belew collection! Carl was a second (or third) tier star of the 1960s, better known for his songwriting than for his singing. Carl has a pleasant but not terribly distinctive voice so it is difficult for him to stand out from the crowd. Curiously enough, for such a fine songsmith, Carl’s biggest hits (“Hello Out There” and “Crystal Chandeliers”)were written by others. This collection covers only the RCA years so it doesn’t include Carl’s version of “Stop The World and Let Me Off” (Waylon Jennings’ first hit) or “Lonely Street” (a pop hit for Andy Williams and a minor country hit for several artists)but it does cover most of his chart hits (such as “Odd Man Out”, “Boston Jail”, “Walking Shadow, Talking Memory”, “Crystal Chandelier”, and “Am I That Easy to Forget?” (a remake – Carl’s charted hit was on Decca).

Production is typical “Nashville Sound”, neither pop nor hard country. This collection could be better if it picked up some of his recordings for other labels, particularly his Decca/Four Star recordings, but I suspect that this will be the only Carl Belew CD you’ll ever see so snap it up. It does include Carl’s take on his song “Don’t Squeeze My Sharmon”, so that alone should make it worth picking up!

RANDY TRAVIS – STORMS OF LIFE
Five Stars – 12/14/2005

There are very few albums where every song is a winner, but this is one of them. All ten songs could have been released as successful singles. “1982” (originally titled “1962” but that title was wrong for a singer as young as Travis) and “On The Other Hand” were the first two hits followed by “Digging Up Bones” and “No Place Like Home” but the quality doesn’t drop one iota on the non-singles such as “Reasons I Cheat” and “Send My Body (Home On A Freight Train)” and “There’ll Always Be A Honky-Tonk”

I’ve been collecting recordings since 1968 – this is one of my top five ever along with JOHNNY CASH AT FOLSOM PRISON, BUCK OWENS LIVE IN LONDON, COUNTRY CHARLEY PRIDE and GUITAR TOWN – Steve Earle

JEFF BATES – RAINBOW MAN
Five Stars – 12/1/2005

It is symptomatic of what is wrong with country radio that “Long Slow Kisses” did not reach #1 (it stayed on the charts forever, topping out just short of the top ten) although some would argue that the fault lies with RCA/BMG because the album was two years old already before RCA/BMG started pushing the song. Anyway, this is a terrific album with Bates’ voice being reminiscent of Conway Twitty without it being a clone. “My Inlaws Are Outlaws” is an amusing song and “Country Enough” and “Rainbow Man” both received significant airplay.

GENE WATSON – BECAUSE YOU BELIEVED IN ME / BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY
Five Stars – 11/29/2005

Gene Watson was at his peak during his tenure at Capitol and these are just two of several outstanding albums he issued for the label. BECAUSE YOU BELIEVED IN ME was Gene’s second album with the title cut reaching the Top 20. BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY was (I think) his fourth album, and contains my all-time favorite Gene Watson single “The Old Man and His Horn” which has a definite New Orleans feel to it(including trumpet solos)and a terrific narrative story. Other singles drawn from this album include “I Don’t Need A Thing At All”, and “Cowboys Don’t Get Lucky All The Time” (which appeared in the soundtrack of the movie ‘Convoy’). Seven of the songs on this CD were penned either by Ray Griff or Dallas Harms. Great stuff

GENE WATSON – LOVE IN THE HOT AFTERNOON / PAPER ROSIE
Five Stars – 11/29/2005

I have no idea who Hux is but if they continue issuing compilations such as this one, I will become a big fan of theirs. While Gene Watson continues to be an excellent performer and recording artist, for my money his best recordings and most interesting songs were recorded for Capitol in the mid 1970s. This two-fer features Gene’s first album LOVE IN THE HOT AFTERNOON and his 3rd album PAPER ROSIE.

LOVE IN THE HOT AFTERNOON features the title cut (originally a Resco single, which was deemed too risque by a few radio stations plus one of my favorite Gene Watson singles “You Could Know As Much About a Stranger” and his first chart entry “Bad Water”. The covers selected, particularly “This Is My Week For Mexico” (an album cut for Charley Pride) are also effective.

PAPER ROSIE isn’t quite as strong but it too is worth five stars. “Paper Rosie is a story song with a feel and sound similar to another of his singles “The Old Man and His Horn”, although not quite as compelling a story. Actually I love all the tracks on this CD except for his cover of “You Gave Me a Mountain, an overly melodramatic song (written by Marty Robbins and a hit for the writer and a bigger hit for Frankie Laine) that I’ve always hated. You can never really go wrong buying a Gene Watson collection, and his Capitol recordings are all 5 star endeavors


LOUIS ARMSTRONG – HOT FIVES AND HOT SEVENS
Five Stars – 11/08/2005

From a historical perspective, the recordings contained within this boxed set may be the most important recordings in the history of popular music. From the perspective of a 21st century listener the recordings, while not necessarily the ultimate aural experience, represent a music education like no other in terms of the development of jazz as a musical idiom, and in the development of the recorded music technology. Mr. John R.T. Davies has done a masterful job of achieving the fine balance between cleaning up old recordings and maintaining the life of the recordings. The Columbia/Sony recordings have less noise than this set, but much of the vitality of the music has been scrubbed away on the Columbia/Sony releases

This four disc set is indeed indispensable to any serious jazz collection as it includes all Armstrong’s classic Hot Five performances with Kid Ory, Johnny Dodds, Johnny St. Cyr and Lil Armstrong, the Hot Sevens, and his fine recordings with Earl “Fatha” Hines (at the time these recordings were made only Hines and Sidney Bechet were really in the same league with Armstrong). While the Louis Armstrong All Stars recordings of the 40 and 50s are sonically better (and I admit listening to them more often than I do these recordings) and may have better accompanying musicians than the Hot 5s/7s (no trombonist ever matched Jack Teagarden), these recordings catch Louis himself at the absolute peak of his abilities as a musician. All of the classics are here, including his masterpiece “West End Blues” (a piece so difficult to play well that Louis largely dropped it from his repertoire in his later years). You also can glance the development of his famous vocal style, although that aspect of Louis as a performer would not mature for another decade

At the price for which this set sells for (roughly $24), it would be a sin not to purchase it

MARK CHESNUT – SAVIN’ THE HONKY-TONKS
Five Stars – 11/08/2005

After being missing for several years, in 2004 Mark returned with an album which stripped off the veneer of modern country production and produced an album of authentic country music. This CD features real musicians playing real music, with his distinctive traditional vocals being front and center in the mix. If the black & white album cover looks eerily familiar to you, it should as Mark, a big Waylon Jennings fan, has modelled it after the front cover of Waylon’s 1973 classic album HONKY TONK HEROES (if you look closely you can see that Mark is wearing a Waylon tee-shirt). Mostly new (and self-penned) material; however, a remake of the Vern Gosdin penned Keith Whitley hit “Would These Arms Be In Your Way” with harmonies by Lee Ann Womack is the standout. The title tune and “The Lord Loves A Drinkin’ Man” are my favorites among the new tunes. And yes, the album concludes with a short version of “Honky Tonk Heroes”

CHARLIE WALKER – GREATEST HONKY-TONK HITS
Five Stars – 11/08/2005

I had been waiting a long time for someone to issue something, anything by Texas swing/shuffler Charlie Walker. Finally Audium/Koch/Sony put together THE definitive hits collection containing all the essentials such as “Pick Me Up On Your Way Down” , “Who’ll Buy The Wine”, “Close All The Honky Tonks” , “Don’t Squeeze My Sharmon”, “San Diego”, “I Wouldn’t Take Her To A Dogfight”, “Honky-Tonk Season”, Honky-Tonk Women” and more. Charlie Walker’s career as a hit-maker didn’t endure primarily because he was a very limited singer having but a very narrow vocal range. There is a Bear Family box set available but that is way too much Charlie Walker This disc is just the right amount. If you liked the early vintage Ray Price, you’ll love this CD

JOHNNY DARRELL – SINGIN’ IT LONESOME
Five Stars – 11/08/2005

For people that like to sample the fringes of country music I would recommend the work of Johnny Darrell (1940-1997), the first “outlaw” of country music.

Johnny Darrell recorded for United Artists from 1965 to about 1973, a major label that was but a bit player in country music so his records did not get the major promotional effort they deserved. Darrell had a clear, strong masculine voice somewhere between tenor and baritone in its range. His great strength was in identifying good songs and good songwriters. Among the songs Darrell was the first to record were (subsequent “hits for” in parenthesis) :

Green Green Grass of Home (Porter Wagoner, Tom Jones)
Ruby Don’t Take Your Love To Town (Kenny Rogers)
Son of Hickory Holler’s Tramp (O.C. Smith)
With Pen In Hand (Billy Vera, Vickie Carr)

Johnny Darrell’s biggest hit was “With Pen In Hand” which rose to #3 on the country charts. A much inferior cover by Billy Vera simultaneously was a hit on the pop charts. If United Artists had done a decent job of promoting the record Darrell’s version would have crossed to the pop charts – it was nearly impossible to find a copy of the single to purchase in many parts of the country. His second biggest hit was “Why You Been Gone So Long” , written by Mickey Newbury.

This collection contains both his greatest hits and his last album for United Artists which featured songs from Mickey Newberry and some then-unknowns like Jackson Browne, Sonny Curtis and Lowell George.