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.