Get your hardcore country here..
Not for the first time in my life BEAR FAMILY is taking a big whack of my time in terms of listening, money, online browsing, researching and pulling of triggers.
The outfit is so broad and diverse that there's no way I could claim to be holus bolus in love with all of it, as op- posed to maybe MOSAIC or JAZZ ORACLE. Nope, not interested in Doris Day or ‘Bonanza’ box sets, or even Nat King Cole. There's a few rockabilly releases I'd like to get familiar with again – Johnny Burnette Trio, Sid King maybe – but by and large I find straight-out rockabilly near unlistenable these days.
But for my areas of interest – honky tonk, western swing, hillbilly boogie and so on, with a nod to old-timey and bluegrass – it sometimes seems that there's not a BEAR FAMILY release out there that will not provide at the very least some interest and at best jump- for-joy delirium.
And unlike, say, ACE (who have also been getting a fair whack of my cus- tom), BEAR FAMILY always has full recor- ding/personnel details.
And with BEAR FAMILY there's always the thrill of knowing the next revelation is just around the corner!
Here's what I picked up in the run-up to Christmas...
The Texas Troubadours – 'Almost To Tulsa: The Instrumentals'
Simply incredible! Backin' the boss, Ernest Tubb, these guys were kept on a pretty tight – if very tasty – leash. Here they sizzle. Smokin' pedal steel and lead guitar, particularly from Buddy Charleton and Leon Rhodes. There's a whole CD at the rear end of the final third Hag BEAR FAMILY box of the Stran- gers doing the same sort of stuff – but nowhere near as compellingly as this. On a couple of tracks the Troubadours veer towards bachelor pad/lounge ter- ritory, but that's cool with me, too. Un- reservedly recommended to diggers of Hank Garland, Speedy West / Jimmy Bryant and so on, but also fans of Hank Roberts and Tal Farlow, and anyone in- terested in checking out the roots of Area Code 615 and Barefoot Jerry.
Ernest Tubb – 'Thirty Days'
Picked this up at the same time after a year or so of prevarication. The BEAR FAMILY Tubb boxes stretch to five, com- prising 30 discs. So it was time to get real and admit I was never going to go that far, even had I the money! There's a PROPER box, but that would've re- stricted me the early stuff only. Thus it seems clear this is the best single-disc available – and it sounds great. Like all in the BEAR FAMILY 'Gonna Shake This Shack Tonight' series, it puts the em- phasis on uptempos, rockers and groovers. But not exclusively.
(Arguing the toss on country music at the weekend with a buddy, he admit
ted that when it comes to country he prefers, Gillian Welch, John Prine and even Neil Young, and that what he called that 'catch' or 'cry' in the voice of Hag and his ilk was always going to be a deal-breaker for him. My response was that if you don't dig that kind of voice – God knows what he'd have thought if I'd spun some Tubb for him – and if you have a problem with novelty tunes, drinking songs, cowboy tunes, Bible-thumping gospel outings, sickly sweet senti- mentality as found on Wayne Raney's The Child's Side Of Life or Fuzzy-Wuzzy Teddy Bear by Hal 'Lone' Pine/Betty Cody (see below), wailing steel guitars (pedal and otherwise), endless tributes to southern culture, well... you may be loving some fine artists, but you sure as hell ain't digging country. (Take all that stuff away and it's no longer country.) In some ways I feel lucky to be free of all the baggage that seems to accompany country for many people, in- cluding it seems many Americans... Another mutual friend of ours once confessed that the sound of blue- grass made her feel ill.)
But back to specifics ...
Leon McAuliffe – 'Tulsa Straight Ahead' ('Gonna Shake This Shack Tonight' series)
Wow, wow, wow! This has blown me away. CAPITOL '50s recordings from Bob Wills' steel man. Nothing all that original here, but it all swings and rocks. More slick than the Wills recordings on which Leon performed – and more in line with the R&B-tinged cuts available by Billy Jack Wills. Great and hot fid- dle, steel guitar and vocals.
Leon Payne – 'I Love You Because'
This one had been calling to me for a while, so it's sad to report I've been a little underwhelmed. A hugely successful songwriter (viz the title track right through to Jim Reeves), Payne turns in a mixed bag of honky tonk and related stuff. One for the true be- lievers (which is me), but not essential.
Hank Snow – 'The Goldrush Is Over' ('Gonna Shake This Shack Tonight' series)
Ah, yes, bliss, another blind spot eradicated. I don't know why I spent four decades of country fandom without ever really checking out Snow – maybe (shamefully) because in my mind's eye there was some sort of connection between Snow and the likes of the aforementioned Jim Reeves. Silly! Anyways, this does the job – rocking, wailing brilliance from beginning to end. Especially surprising are Snow's own acoustic guitar breaks. He ain't no virtuoso, but perfection doesn't always require that level of ge- nius. Which is no doubt genius of a kind, too. Like Tubb, Snow is covered by multiple box sets – a whole lot too much for me, although the set showcasing the Thesaurus transcriptions of Snow doing his own material and covers with his own band has profound appeal. I'm more likely to spring for one or two of the recent releases that are thematically presented – railroad tunes, cowboy songs, Hawaian stuff.
Hal Lone Pine/Betty Cody – 'On The Trail Of The Lonesome Pine'
More from Canada. Straight-up mixed bag but al- most always with a twist that contrats it from the mainstream US product of the times. Lovely!
Montana Slim/Wilf Carter – 'The Dynamite Trail'
Another Canadian! My country adventures of recent years could well be sub-titled "How Kenny Learned To Chill Out And Love The Yodel". But that might be going a bit too far. More like "Kenny Learns To Live With The Yodel". In any case, there's wall-to-wall yo- delling here, a single disc I chose to get to grips with this particular artist. I dunno – maybe some earlier stuff might be more my go, but this is too slick/for- mulaic for me, yodelling aside.