I probably spent more money on reissues of old music this year than I did on new music, although I purchased lots of new music. Here is my list of the best reissues of 2011 – just one man’s opinion, listed in no particular order. No fellow travelers such as Americana, just real country music (at least in my top ten).
JESSI COLTER – I’M JESSI COLTER / DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH
The Australian label Raven, has issued a number of American country music albums, usually in the form of two-fers. Here Raven presents two albums from the talented Jessi Colter, mother of modern day artist Shooter Jennings and widow of legendary performer Waylon Jennings. While Jessi wasn’t the most prolific recording artist and is actually well served by several of the anthologies available, it is nice to have two of her Capitol albums available, as she originally conceived them.
Her first album for Capitol Records, I’M JESSI COLTER (1975), spawned the #1 Country / #5 Pop hit “I’m Not Lisa” and the follow-up hit “What’s Happened To Blue Eyes”. The album was produced by Waylon Jennings, and features many of the musicians who played on his albums (Reggie Young, Weldon Myrick, Ritchie Albright, Jim Gordon ) but no one would ever mistake the arrangements as anything that would ever appear on a Waylon album, as he deftly tailors the production to fit his bride’s individual talents. An early take on “Storms Never Last” minus Waylon, is my favorite track on the album. DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH (1976) wasn’t quite as successful reaching #4 on the Country chart and yielding the hits “I Thought I Heard You Calling My Name” (No.29 Country) and “You Hung the Moon (Didn’t You Waylon?)”. The title track “Diamond in the Rough” gives Jessi a chance to stretch and show her blues sensibilities.
This set includes a nice and informative booklet and three bonus tracks from a later Capitol album. If you have no Jessi Colter in your collection, this is a good starting point.
LORETTA LYNN – YOUR SQUAW IS ON THE WARPATH / FIST CITY
Here’s another very fine reissue from Raven. For whatever reason, very few of Loretta’s classic 60s-early 70s albums have been reissued on CD. True, there are many fine (and not so fine) anthologies but other than Coal Miner’s Daughter and You Ain’t Woman Enough and some religious albums, nothing has been issued with the sequencing that God and Owen Bradley intended.
If I were to pick two albums to start off a series of Loretta Lynn two-fers, I don’t think I could do better than these two albums. Both albums showcase Loretta at the peak of her vocal powers and peak of her chart prowess. Your Squaw Is On The Warpath (1969) features a title song that is as feisty as anything Loretta ever recorded. It didn’t reach #1 on Billboard (it got to #3 on Billboard but reached #1 on Cashbox), mostly because Loretta was fearless and tackled subjects most female singers feared to tackle. Consequently, many of her songs were banned by scattered radio stations, just enough lost spins to cost her a handful of #1 records. The other single from this album was “You Just Stepped In (From Stepping Out on Me) went to #1 on Record World and #2 on Billboard and Cashbox. There were three pretty good covers “I Walk Alone”, “Harper ValleyPTA” and “Kaw-Liga” plus some other songs. Notably missing from this CD reissue is the song “Barney” which had the same melody as a Salem Cigarettes television commercial. The front cover to this album remains my favorite Loretta Lynn album cover.
Fist City (1968) features two great singles in the title tune (Loretta’s second Billboard #1) and “What Kind Of A Girl (Do You Think I Am)”, a top five hit in 1968, plus some great covers (Norma Jean’s “Jackson Ain’t A Very Big Town” , Jean Shepard’s “Satisfied Mind”, the Wilburn Brothers “Somebody’s Back In Town” and Tammy Wynette’s “I Don’t Wanna Play House” plus some originals. I always enjoyed hearing Loretta cover the hits of her fellow female country singers since Loretta usually sang them as least as well as the original hit artist. The album is enhanced by some tracks from the underappreciated album Loretta Lynn Writes ‘Em And Sings ‘Em, which was a cross between a greatest hits album and a songwriter anthology ofLynn’s writings. This is a fine collection and an essential for any younger fan who wants to know what Loretta Lynn was all about.
THE STONEMAN FAMILY – ALL IN THE FAMILY
This album from Omni collects the Stoneman Family’s recorded output for MGM during the 1960s, including the last tracks recorded by Pop Stoneman. Despite the relative lack of chart success, the Stonemans were an important element in the evolution of bluegrass from that “high lonesome sound” to the more sophisticated lyrics and arrangements of “newgrass”. To me the highlights of the collection are Pop’s selections (introduced by a strum of the autoharp). On the songs where Pop sits it out, such as “Christopher Robin” and “West Canterbury Subdivision Blues”, is where the rest of the group shines. The mandolin of Donna Stoneman and the banjo of Roni Stoneman are truly awe-inspiring and worth the price of purchase even if nothing else about the album pleases you.
KITTY WELLS – COUNTRY HIT PARADE / WINNER OF YOUR HEART
From Hux, the British label that gave us those great Gene Watson releases a few years ago, comes a two-fer of Kitty Wells’ first two albums Country Hit Parade (1956) and Winner Of Your Heart (1957). By the time these albums were released Kitty was already several years into her reign as Queen of Country, a throne she ascended to at about the same time that Elizabeth II became the Queen of England. This album contains four of Kitty’s biggest hit singles “I Didn’t Know God Made Honky Tonk Angels”, “Poison In Your Heart,” “Release Me” and “Making Believe” plus a bunch of minor singles and other tunes that demonstrate why Kitty, like QE2 has held onto her throne for so long.
WEBB PIERCE – FALLEN ANGEL / CROSS COUNTRY
I love the folks at Hux for continuing to get all this great classic county music back into production. In this case we have two early 1960s albums from the biggest country star of the 1950s, Webb Pierce. While Webb’s star had faded slightly after 1958, he was still in fine voice and still adept at finding great material. Fallen Angel from 1961 had the title song reach #4 and “Let Forgiveness In” hit #5 plus a bunch of nice covers including “There’s More Pretty Girls Than One” and Webb’s take on a Jimmie Rodgers classic, “My Rough And Rowdy Ways”. Cross Country, issued in 1962, has what may be the most famous album cover in country music history, the silver dollar encrusted convertible with the saddle plus three top ten singles in “Take Time”, “Alla My Love” and “Crazy Wild Desire” and some wonderful covers in “Heartaches By The Number”, “Waterloo” and “Cry Cry Darling”. This album has the more solid country feel of the two with fiddle and steel guitar on prominent display. Hux hit another home run with this one.
BOBBY LORD – EVERYBODY’S ROCKIN’ BUT ME
Bobby Lord was a major country music personality for decades, with his television shows, (religious, secular and fishing/outdoors), long-time Opry membership, and a host of fine country and rockabilly recordings, none of which has ever been available on CD until now. This Bear Family disc focuses on Bobby’s years on Columbia Records in the 1950s. During Bobby’s years on Columbia, 18 singles were issued without Columbia ever releasing an album until after he had left the label. Of these singles, only his seventh, “Without Your Love,” released in 1956, charted on Billboard’s Country Chart (reaching #10), though most of them sold very well in the South, with several becoming huge sellers. Since the charts prior to 1958 went only 15-20 places deep and Lord’s records were selling only regionally, it’s not surprising that they didn’t chart. Despite this, several of his records reportedly sold over 200,000 copies, with “Hawkeye” (written by Boudleaux Bryant) being the biggest hit, although “Swamp Fox” and “Pie Peachy Pie” are also well remembered. All of Lord’s Columbia singles fetch high prices from collectors – so this affordably collection will enable the rest of us to finally obtain his music. All of the songs referenced above are among the twenty-four sides on this CD, a reissue I consider the most important reissue of 2011.
DAN SEALS – THE VERY BEST OF DAN SEALS
I’ve never been a huge Dan Seals fan, too pop flavored for my taste, but what he did, he did extremely well, moving from recording adult contemporary music as part of the duo of England Dan and John Ford Coley, to some pretty decent pop-country records in the 1980s. What has been missing is a decent hits collection on Seals. Several ten song CDs were available in the past, with huge overlap between them and several key songs missing entirely. Since Dan had sixteen top ten records including eleven #1 records, it was about time he got a better collection of his hits. This collection on Varese Sarabande has eighteen tracks including all sixteen of his top ten records plus a couple of lesser hits from earlier in his career. Unless you are a maniacal Dan Seals fan, this has everything you need.
BILL ANDERSON – THE FIRST TEN YEARS
Another of those exhaustive multi-disc sets from Bear Family, this one covering the years 1956-1966 for “Whispering Bill” Anderson. While hardly a compelling singer, Bill knows how to work within his limitations as a singer, and had great success as a singer charting twenty singles during the period covered by this collection. This four CD set contains over 120 songs including many songs that Bill wrote that were hits for other singers. This set contains Bill’s two biggest hits, “Mama Sang A Song” and “Still” both of which spent seven weeks at #1.
I love this set and Bear Family does the usual bang up job with a detailed and gorgeously illustrated book and the best possible sound re-mastering. While I regard this as an essential acquisition for Bill’s many fans, for others this will be definite overkill.
VERN GOSDIN – CHISELED IN STONE / ALONE
Released on T-Bird, this recent CD two-fer couples Vern’s 1987 debut Columbia album Chiseled In Stone with Alone from 1990. Chiseled In Stone is one of those rare albums in which perfect instrumental production (by Billy Sherrill) meets an awe-inspiring vocalist who nails every single track. If you aren’t thoroughly depressed after hearing the title track, check your heart – it’s missing. “Do You Believe Me Now” isn’t terribly more upbeat, either. This album also features Vern’s brilliant tribute to some of Ernest Tubb’s greatest hits in “Set ‘Em Up Joe” (a tip of the hat to “Walking The Floor Over You” and “Two Glasses Joe”).
Alone isn’t quite as good as Chiseled In Stone. By that I mean it isn’t quite as intense. Since, as a stand-alone album I would give it an A+, you can tell what I think of this pairing. Alone yielded several top-flite singles in “Right In The Wrong Direction”, “I’m Still Crazy” and “That Just About Does It”. There was a reason Vern Gosdin was known as The Voice – this collection demonstrates the validity of the nickname in full, and then some.
DOTTIE WEST – COUNTRY SUNSHINE – THE RCA HIT SINGLES (1963-1974)
Another T-Bird release, this anthology fills a definite market need. While Dottie’s rather contrived United Artist recordings have been available in the past, a definitive collection of Dottie’s essential RCA recordings has been missing. This is that definitive collection. Dottie charted thirty-six singles while on RCA; this collection grabs the twenty-one best including her first top ten record, the rarely collected 1964 duet with Jim Reeves, “Love Is No Excuse”. Jim died four months after this single was released and it saddens me to think of the wonderful recordings they could have made together, that never got made. Other songs include classic early hits such “Here Comes My Baby”, “Would You Hold It Against Me” and “Paper Mansions” and her late RCA hits “Country Sunshine” (her sole Record World #1 on RCA) and her take on the Diana Ross hit “Last Time I Saw Him”. Also included are duets with Jimmy Dean and Don Gibson.
For whatever reason, Dottie’s career at RCA lost traction after “Last Time I Saw Him” with last five singles failing to reach the top twenty (the last three failed to reach the top sixty) so the collection ends with “House of Love” which stalled out at #21.
OTHER NOTEWORTHY REISSUES
While not a great year for reissues, there were more than ten reissues worth noting. Hux issued another fine Gene Watson two-fer Memories To Burn/Starting New Memories.
I’m not a big Mickey Newbury fan, but those who are will salivate over the recent four CD set American Trilogy which collects the Mercury album Looks Like Rain, two Elektra albums “Frisco Mabel Joy and Heaven Help The Child, and a bunch of other rare and unreleased material.
Bobby Bare fans will find a Raven two-fer of two mid-70s RCA albums Cowboys and Daddys / Me & McDill, neither among his best work, but both good albums and issued with some bonus tracks.
Bear Family released a nice Tommy Collins single disc set titled Black Cat as well as some more in their series of single year anthologies Dim Lights, Thick Smoke and Hillbilly Music, covering the years 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964 and 1965. Even those of you who purchased the Time-Life series Country Music USA will want these discs.
Raven released the next volume of George Jones anthologies covering the Epic years. There is plenty of George Jones material available on the market, so these aren’t essential collections. That said, if you have nothing from George’s two decade stay with Epic, Radio Lover 1980-1989: A Critical Anthology (25 tracks) and Raven’s 2009 companion volume Step Right Up 1970-1979: A Critical Anthology (28 tracks) are really good places to start your collection.
Sony Legacy has issued another in its series of “official” Johnny Cash bootlegs in Johnny Cash Bootleg Vol. 3 – Live Around The World, a 2 CD set that is nice but hardly essential. The sound quality on this set varies from okay to very good. I’ve listened to the set twice, for historical interest, but doubt that it will receive many future plays from me since there other outstanding live albums for Cash.
For bluegrass fans, Gusto finished off a pair of projects started a few years back, issuing Reno & Smiley 1959-1963 and The Stanley Brothers – The King Years 1961-1965. With the reissue of these two 4 CD box sets, Gusto has put back in print all of the recordings by these two beyond-essential groups that were recorded for any of the Gusto family of labels (Gusto, Starday, King, etc.). I’m not the biggest fan of bluegrass, but anyone even remotely interested in the genre should own some Reno & Smiley and Stanley Brothers recordings and the above two will do quite nicely. Of course once you’ve tried these two sets, you’ll also want the 2009 reissue Reno & Smiley Early Years 1951-1959 and the 2010 reissue The Stanley Brothers – Early Starday/King Years 1958-1961. If you buy all four box sets you’ll have 196 Reno & Smiley tracks and 214 Stanley Brothers tracks, just about the right number for the non-diehard to have in their collection. Each of the sets comes with a nice 32 page color booklet and will set you back no more than $20 per set (often found at discounted prices).
Obviously, I’ve only touched upon the reissues of 2011, and only in one genre. There are two mail order firms that specialize in older music of all genres. Over the last two decades I’ve spent a lot of money with both outfits:
Roots & Rhythm
Down Home Music
Two other good (but more mainstream) places to check are
Collectors Choice Music
Ernest Tubb Record Shop