My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Tom T. Hall and Earl Scruggs – ‘The Storyteller And The Banjo Man’

banjo manHall’s career began to slow down in the later 1970s. In 1978 he left longtime label Mercury for RCA. After a few albums for that label, he moved again to Columbia in 1982, where he returned to his bluegrass roots. Teaming up with the legendary Earl Scruggs, who shares the vocals as well as playing some plangent banjo, the pair deliver a set of mainly older songs.

There were two singles released, although neither performed very well – unsurprisingly, as pop influences were pushing out more traditional sounds and bluegrass in particular had been largely banished from country radio apart from Ricky Skaggs and Emmylou Harris.

The much-married protagonist ‘There Ain’t No Country Music On This Jukebox’ complains,

I guess them boys and girls in Nashville ran out of something to say,

leaving him to listen to music that makes his “beer go flat”. He offers inspiration from his own life:

I bet they’d write a hundred country songs.

The bouncy ‘Song Of The South’(written by Bob McDill) had been recoded prevosuly by Bobby Bare and Johnny Russell is best known from Alabama’s cover which topped the country charts in 1988. The cheery vocals give this a singalong feel which bely the dark undertone of some of the lyrics, with a mother who was “old at 35”.

There is a more nostalgic look back at times past in ‘Engineers Don’t Wave From Trains Anymore’, a new Hall-penned song. It’s a bit of a shame that he didn’t write more for this record, as Hall was always a better songwriter than he was a vocalist.

Much of the material comprises older songs. I liked the gloomy and very authentic sound of the traditional ‘Shackles And Chains’, which Halls everyman persona works well on. ‘Don’t This Road Look Rough And Rocky’ is sad and gentle with an imaginative arrangement. ‘Lover’s Farewell’ is a subdued message from a dying man.

‘Lonesome Valley’ is straightforward bluegrass gospel complete with the traditional quartet vocal arrangement.

90s country fans will know ‘Don’t Give Your Heart To A Rambler’ from Travis Tritt’s ramped up version. This is a more conventional bluegrass version. The much-recorded ‘Rollin’ In My Sweet Baby’s Arms’ gets a lively workout, also in standard bluegrass style.

The country classic ‘Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (And Loud Loud Music)’ is one of my favorite songs, and it sounds good with Scruggs’ banjo dominating the arrangement. ‘No Expectations’ is another fine song with a plaintive vocal.

This is a great opportunity to hear the legendary Scruggs playing banjo, and the songs and arrangements are all flawless, but Hall really isn’t in the top flight of vocalists.

Grade: B+

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One response to “Album Review: Tom T. Hall and Earl Scruggs – ‘The Storyteller And The Banjo Man’

  1. Paul W Dennis May 29, 2014 at 8:08 pm

    “This is a great opportunity to hear the legendary Scruggs playing banjo, and the songs and arrangements are all flawless, but Hall really isn’t in the top flight of vocalists.”

    And there lies the rub. On those albums where Tom was writing his own top-flite material, he was making great albums. When his own writing wasn’t top notch, or he was relying on outside material, then he was just another singer and not a particularly compelling one . Hall is a deserving member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, but it is on the strength of his incredible songwriting that such honor was bestowed

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