There are many of us who don’t want to hear 5 hours of the same performer, and would rather hear a cross section of different artists. That’s why single disc compilations are the way to go. They’ll give you a fine sampling and lead you to artists you’ll want to further investigate…”
by john pinamonti
Hey there, music lovers! Before I commence with this week’s review, I’m going to jump up on the smokebox again and preach at ‘cha for a bit. I know that just last month I reviewed a Hank Williams CD, and now here I am, reviewing even more Country music. Believe you me, I will be covering lots of other stuff in columns to come (next month, for example, I’ll tell you about three of Dexter Gordon’s classic Blue Note recordings), and I don’t want to leave you with the impression that Ole Pointy is biased towards Country. If anything, I am perhaps reacting to the bias that some folks have against Country. Many people don’t know the profound effect that great Country artists have had on the likes of Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Neil Young… the list goes on and on. Talk to any of them and they’ll tell you about Jimmie Rodgers, The Carter Family, Hank, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, George Jones… Unfortunately, these names don’t mean much to a lot of people who think of “Country” as being Garth Brooks, Shania Twain and Faith Hill. This is similar to when people talk about Jazz and they mean Kenny G or The Rippingtons, and not Louis Armstrong, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane… If you have no idea what I’m talking about, I suggest that you give a listen to the next few months of recommendations. You will hear a difference, and you will understand the difference between slickly marketed schlock and music that comes from the heart and soul. I’ll step down off the box now and tell you about this month’s picks!
One of the best things about all the reissues of old material is the availability of a lot of great songs and performances on one disc. True collectors and connoisseurs often buy the “complete recordings” of individual performers, but most of these are box sets and will cost you $100 and up! Besides the expense, there are many of us who don’t want to hear 5 hours of the same performer, and would rather hear a cross section of different artists. That’s why single disc compilations are the way to go. They’ll give you a fine sampling and lead you to artists you’ll want to further investigate. Here are two of the best:
Columbia Country Classics, Vol. 2 Honky Tonk Heroes (Columbia)
Heroes of Country Music, Vol. 2 Legends of Honky Tonk (Rhino Records)
Both of these discs present some of the all-time greats – you get not only the better known ones (Ray Price, Lefty Frizzell, Marty Robbins) but also some who deserve to be better remem-heard (Floyd Tillman, Al Dexter, Leon Payne). While there are several of the same artists on both CDs, there is only one song that’s doubled up (Pick Me Up on Your Way Down by Charlie Walker – and it’s a Harlan Howard song that’s so good you’ll want to hear it twice!). Because some of the same artists are represented on both, you get, for example, both Born to Lose on one and Slippin’ Around on the other, both by Floyd Tillman, which will give you a good dose of what he was all about. Basically, what is omitted from one you may find in the other, which is why it’s necessary to buy both. The good news there is that both go for about $10 each, so for a mere $20 you’ll get 45 tunes that will set yer toes a’ tappin and yer booty a’shakin’. I personally love to put stuff like this on when I’m cooking and having folks over for Pointy’s famous Gumbo Filé.
Both Rhino and Columbia have several volumes of compilations. Columbia has, for example, released 5 volumes of their Country Classics – both Vol. 1 The Golden Age and Vol. 4 The Nashville Sound are worth getting, though if your tastes run between the old-timey sounds found on 1 and slicker Nashville sounds of the 60’s found on 4, Vol. 2 is the best bet. (The Vol. Numbers correspond roughly with time periods – 1 being stuff from the 30’s and 40’s, 2 being from the 40’s and 50’s, etc.) There is also an amazing disc called Hillbilly Boogie on Legacy/Columbia (a subsidiary label – it’s listed as a Columbia Country Classic, but for some reason is on Legacy). It features 20 killer tracks and a liner note essay about the music by Artie Traum that’s worth the $10 price alone. I highly recommend it – it’s in the same vein (but better than) Rhino’s Vol. 1 – Legends of Western Swing. When you see the label “Western Swing”, this more often than not means that you’re going to get some rockin’ music that combines elements of country, blues, jazz and ethnic music. You will find, for example, the accordion prominently featured (an instrument obviously associated with Conjunto and Tejano music, but brought by Czech and German immigrants to the Southwest in the 1800’s), alongside the clarinet and steel guitar, and all of these playing what sounds like bebop lines over hard shuffle rhythms while wearing matching cowboy outfits (check out the picture!) If this intrigues you, Hillbilly Boogie is the disc for you.
Enjoy your listening – next month as promised – Dexter Gordon
John “Pointy” Pinamonti is a Managing Editor of Smokebox and an accomplished guitar slinger who practices his trade while slurpin’ fine bourbon and playing smoky clubs in New York City. His latest cd “High, Wide And Handsome” is available at his website.