My Kind of Country

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

Ten best reissues of 2012

2012 wasn’t a great year for reissues, but there were ten that struck me as exceptional enough to make a ten best list. Here is a list of my favorites (note: some of the foreign CDs may carry a 2011 date but did not hit the American market until 2012). My list is a mixed bag of single volume releases, affordable multi-disc sets and two rather expensive boxed sets

janiefricke Janie Fricke – The Country Side of Bluesgrass

An excellent set of Janie Fricke’s 1970s and 1980s hits recast as bluegrass. This album was advertised as the follow-up to her 2004 Bluegrass Sessions album, but it is actually a reissue of that album minus the bonus DVD – same songs, same “bonus track”, same musicians and producer. Only the packaging differs, so if you have the earlier CD you don’t need this one. If you don’t have the earlier version then you do need this one as Janie is one of the few female singers whose vocal chops have gotten better as she aged.

loudermilkSitting in the Balcony – The Songs of John D. Loudermilk

Although John D. Loudermilk wrote a large number of hit records for other performers, his hit songs (“Abilene”, “Waterloo”, “Talk Back Trembling Lips”, “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye” , “Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian”, “Tobacco Road” , “A Rose And A Baby Ruth”, etc) were not at all typical of the material with which he filed his albums. A first cousin of Ira & Charlie Louvin (they were actually the Loudermilk Brothers before the name change), John D. Loudermilk had a decidedly offbeat outlook on life as evidenced by the songs in this two CD set. Loudermilk didn’t have a great singing voice and his offbeat songs resulted in no top twenty hits for him as a performer, but his songs are treasures.

Disc One (John D. Loudermilk: The Records) contains 32 recordings John made from 1957-1961. Disc Two (John D. Loudermilk: The Songs of John D. Loudermilk) contains 32 recordings made by other artists from 1956-1961, not necessarily big hits (although several are sprinkled in) but interesting songs by a wide array of artists, both famous and obscure (the famous names include Eddie Cochran, Johnny Cash, The Everly Brothers, Kitty Wells and Connie Francis). If you’ve never heard John D. Loudermilk, this is the place to start – it won’t be your stopping point

bradleykincaid Bradley Kincaid – A Man and His Guitar
Released by the British label JSP, this four CD set sells for under $30.00 and gives you 103 songs by one the individuals most responsible for preserving the musical heritage of rural America, through his song collecting and issuance of songbooks. Beyond being a preservationist, Kincaid was an excellent songwriter, singer and radio performer, as well as being Grandpa Jones’ mentor. This collection covers the period 1927-1950. An essential set for anyone interested in the history of country music

bootleg4 Johnny Cash – The Soul of Truth: Bootleg Vol. 4

You can never have too much Johnny Cash in your collection, and this 2 CD set includes the released albums A Believer Sings the Truth and Johnny Cash – Gospel Singer, plus unreleased material and outtakes. Various members of Cash’s extended family appear plus Jan Howard and Jessi Colter.

shebwooley Sheb Wooley –
White Lightnin’ (Shake This Shack Tonight)

Sheb Wooley had several careers – movie star, television actor (Rawhide), singer and comedian. Actually Sheb had two singing careers – a ‘straight’ country as Sheb Wooley and a comic alter-ego, the besotted Ben Colder.

This set covers the post WW2 recordings, recorded under the name Sheb Wooley. Sheb had a considerable sense of humor even when recording under his own name and there are quite a few humorous and offbeat songs in this thirty song collection released by Bear Family. Recorded on the west coast of the USA, many of these recordings feature steel guitar wizard Speedy West and the lightning fingers of guitarist Jimmie Bryant. Sheb’s biggest hit was “Purple People Eater”, which is not on this CD but there are many songs to make you smile including such classics as “That’s My Pa”, “You’re The Cat’s Meow” and “Rover, Scoot Over”, plus a number of boogies and a song titled “Hill Billy Mambo”.

martyrobbinsEl Paso: The Marty Robbins Story (1952-1960)

Marty Robbins was the “renaissance man” of country music. He could sing anything and everything. I always suspected that if rock and roll had not come along and momentarily wiped out the pop standards/classic pop market, Marty might have been competing against Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Julius Larosa and Tony Bennett, rather than competing as a county artist.

Whatever the case, Robbins was a truly great singer and this two CD set from the Czech label Jasmine proves it. This sixty (60) song collections gives us pop standards, rock and roll (“Maybelline”, “Long Tall Sally”, “That’s All Right, Mama”), ‘Mr. Teardrop’ ballads (“I Couldn’t Keep From Crying” , “Mr. Teardrop”, Teen Hits (“A White Sport Coat [And A Pink Carnation]”, “The Story of My Life”) , Country Standards (“Singing The Blues”, and lots of the great western ballads for which he was most famous”

If you don’t have any Marty Robbins this is a good place to start – sixty songs, under twenty bucks. Marty’s songs have been around and available in various configurations so this isn’t an essential album, merely an excellent one.

johnhartford

John Hartford – Aereo Plane/Morning Bugle: The Complete Warner Collection

John Hartford (December 30, 1937 – June 4, 2001) is best remembered for writing “Gentle On My Mind” but he was much more than a songwriter who happened to write a hit for Glen Campbell. Hartford was an extremely talented musician who could play any instruments, although banjo and fiddle were his main tools, a fine singer with a wry sense of humor and a scholar of the lore and history of the Mississippi River. While he sometimes is group settings, John was comfortable performing as a one-man band playing either banjo or guitar along with harmonica while clogging out the rhythm on an amplified piece of plywood while he played and sang.

Warner Brothers released these albums in 1971 and 1972, following his four-year run on RCA. Aereo-Plain has been described as hippie bluegrass, and its failure to sell well caused Warner Brothers to not bother with promoting the follow-up album Morning Bugle. Too bad as Aereo-Plain is chock full of quirky but interesting songs, with musicianship of the highest order with Norman Blake on guitar, Tut Taylor on dobro, and Vassar Clements on fiddle as part of the ensemble. I’ve always regard this album as the first “newgrass” album, and while others may disagree, it certainly is among the first. I don’t recall any singles being released from this album but I heard “Steam Powered Aereo Plane” and “Teardown The Grand Ole Opry” on the radio a few times.

While Aereo-Plain reached the Billboard album charts at #193, the follow-up Morning Bugle didn’t chart at all. Too bad as it is an imaginative album featuring Hartford with Norman Blake on guitar and mandolin, joined by legendary jazz bassist Dave Holland. The album features nine original compositions plus a couple of old folk songs. I particulary liked “Nobody Eats at Linebaugh’s Anymore” and “Howard Hughes’ Blues”, but the entire album is excellent. Following Warner Brothers’ failure to promote this album, Hartford asked to be released from his contract. He never again recorded for a major label, instead producing a series of fine albums for the likes of Flying Fish, Rounder and Small Dog A-Barkin’.

This reissue unearths eight previously unreleased tracks, making it a ‘must-have’ for any true John Hartford fan and a great starting point for those unfamiliar with his music.

bobbybare Bobby Bare – As Is/Ain’t Got Nothin’ To Lose

Bobby Bare was never flashy or gimmicky in his approach to music even though he recorded many novelties from the pen of Shel Silverstein. For Bare songs had stories to tell and that’s how he approached them. Whether the song was something from Shel, Tom T Hall, Billy Joe Shaver, Bob McDill or whomever, Bobby made sure that the song’s story was told. While this approach didn’t always get Bare the big hits, it always gained him the respect of the listener.

This reissue couples two of Bare’s early 1980s Columbia releases plus a few bonus tracks. The great John Morthland in his classic book The Best of Country Music, had this to say about As Is: “… It is the ideal Bobby Bare formula really: give him a batch of good songs and turn him loose. No concepts here, nothing cutesy, just ten slices-of-life produced to perfection by Rodney Crowell”.

My two favorite tracks on As Is were a pair of old warhorses, Ray Price’s 1968 “Take Me As I Am (Or Let Me Go) “ and the Ian Tyson classic “Summer Wages”.

While I Ain’t Got Nothing To Lose isn’t quite as stong an album, it gives Bare’s wry sense of humor several display platforms. The (almost) title track echos thoughts that many of us have felt at some point in our life (the first line is the actual song title:

If you ain’t got nothin’ you ain’t got nothin’ to lose
There ain’t no pressure when you’re singin’ these low down blues
Smokin’ that git down bummin’ them red men chews
If you ain’t got nothin’ you ain’t got nothin’ to lose

Hugh Moffat’s “Praise The Lord and Send Me The Money” is a clever jab at televangelistas . I’ll give you a middle verse and let you guess the rest:

I woke up late for work the next morning
I could not believe what I’d done
Wrote a hot check to Jesus for ten thousand dollars
And my bank account only held thirty-one

I consider virtually everything Bobby Bare recorded to be worthwhile so I jumped on this one the minute I knew of its existence. I already had As Is on vinyl but somehow the companion album slipped by me.

This brings us up to two rather expensive box sets that will set the purchaser back by several bills.

conniesmithThe obsessive German label Bear Family finally got around to releasing their second box set on Connie Smith. Just For What I Am picks up where the prior set left off and completes the RCA years. While many prefer Miss Smith’s earliest recordings, I am most fond of her work from the period 1968-1972, when her material was more adventurous, especially on the album tracks. During this period Smith had shifted from Bill Anderson being her preferred songwriter to focusing on the songs of Dallas Frazier, including one full album of nothing but Dallas Frazier-penned songs. The ‘Nashville Sound’ blend of strings and steel never sounded as good as it did on these tracks. There is a fair amount of religious music on the set, but for the less religiously inclined there is more than enough good solid country music on the set to be worth the effort in programming your CD player to skip the religious tracks. At her peak Connie Smith was the strongest vocalist the genre has ever generated – even today at age 71, she can blow away most female vocalists. Highlights are songs such as “Where Is My Castle”, “Louisiana Man”, “Ribbon of Darkness”, but when I listen to these discs, I just put ‘em on and let ‘em spin.

cashUp to this point, I actually own all of the albums and sets listed above. Not being made of money, I haven’t purchased Sony/Legacy’s massive 63 CD set The Complete Johnny Cash Columbia Album Collection, although the temptation is there. What is stopping me from making the purchase (other than my wife) is that already own 99% of what the set contains in one format or another.

What the set contains is an unbelievable array of material, it’s difficult to think of any singer whose work has been so varied. There are gospel albums, Christmas albums, a children’s album, soundtrack albums from a couple of movies, two Highwayman albums, a collaboration with former Sun label mates Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, a concert from a Swedish prison and other live albums and duet albums – a total of 59 albums as originally released on the Columbia label (no bonus tracks). There set also includes another four CDs of miscellaneous materials – singles and B-sides not originally on albums, Johnny’s guest vocals on other artist’s albums plus various oddities. Some of Cash’s later Columbia albums were not quite as strong as the earlier albums, but even the weaker albums contained some quite interesting material. This set usually sells for around $265 or $4 per disc.

7 responses to “Ten best reissues of 2012

  1. Razor X December 31, 2012 at 10:12 pm

    As far as the box sets are concerned, they do require a big cash outlay, but they are very good value for the money and they are more economical than buying the albums individually. I have the Connie Smith set and it was worth every penny.

  2. Leeann Ward January 1, 2013 at 1:18 pm

    The Marty Robbins collection is an incredible deal, especially digitally. Bill and I are actually considering the Johnny Cash box set. Paul, are there albums included in the box set that were previously only available on vinyl?

    • Paul W Dennis January 1, 2013 at 2:26 pm

      There are some albums not previously released on CD, although I’m not sure to what extent. If only briefly Columbia issued on CD some of Johnny’s more obscure albums. I purchased some of them, but in some cases my vinyl was in pristine shape so I didn’t bother purchasing the CD . I think JOHN R CASH , STRAWBERRY CAKE (recorded live at the London Palladium) and LOOK AT THEM BEANS were not issued on CD in the USA. Granted they are hardly essential Johnny Cash, but they do have their moments

      • Ken Johnson January 1, 2013 at 3:49 pm

        My major beef with the Complete Cash Collection is that Sony chose to reissue Cash’s first 19 Columbia albums in MONO. Back in that era (pre-1968) labels issued albums in both mono and stereo formats. By 1968 almost all new album releases were in stereo.
        As there are no major differences in the mono vs. stereo mixes it makes no sense to issue them in mono. The Cash Bear Family box sets contain the stereo versions so it’s not as if all of the stereo master tapes were lost! They could have issued BOTH the stereo & mono mixes on each CD to satisfy completists who desired the mono versions.

        The Bear Family box sets which have issued almost all of Cash’s studio recordings through 1969 except for his 1969 album “The Holy Land” and the unissued Bob Dylan duets. They also issued a single CD with two movie soundtracks recorded by Cash – I Walk The Line and Little Fauss & Big Halsy, both from 1970. Their “Come Along And Ride This Train” concept albums boxset included America (1972) & The Rambler (1977)

        The Columbia/Sony domestic reissues have been inconsistent. Single or two-fer CD’s have not been issued thus far for: The Lure Of The Grand Canyon (with Andre Kostelanetz and his Orchestra) (1961), The Sound Of Johnny Cash (1962), Keep On The Sunny Side (with the Carter Family -1964) I Walk The Line (1964), Mean As Hell (1965) [However all of the songs from that album are on the reissue CD of Ballads Of The Of True West], Everybody Loves A Nut (1966), Happiness Is You (1966), From Sea To Shining Sea (1967), Hello I’m Johnny Cash (1970), The Johnny Cash Show (1970), I Walk The Line (Soundtrack -1970) , Little Fauss & Big Halsy (Soundtrack -1970), Man In Black (1971), The Johnny Cash Collection – His Greatest Hits Vol. II (1971), A Thing Called Love (1972), Any Old Wind That Blows (1973), The Gospel Road (2 album set – 1973), Johnny Cash And His Woman (with June Carter -1973), The Junkie And The Juicehead (1974), John R. Cash (1975), Look At Them Beans (1975), Strawberry Cake (1976), One Piece At A Time (1976), The Last Gunfighter Ballad (1977), The Rambler (1977), Johnny Cash’s Greatest Hits Vol. 3 (1978), Gone Girl (1978), The Baron (1981), Encore (1981), The Adventures Of Johnny Cash (1982) and Rainbow (1985),

        Sony UK issued a 3 disc set with Hello I’m Johnny Cash, The Johnny Cash Show & Man In Black in 2012.

        Readers Digest issued a 4-CD set in 2010 “The Great Seventies Recordings.” One disc featured greatest hits, singles and unissued tracks. The other three discs included the albums Hello I’m Johnny Cash, The Johnny Cash Show, Man In Black, A Thing Called Love, Any Old Wind That Blows and One Piece At A Time.

        So as you can see there is a lot of unavailable Cash music in that massive Columbia set.

        • Paul W Dennis January 1, 2013 at 5:06 pm

          Thanks Ken

          Wow – I didn’t realize that many albums were missing from the Cash CD canon. Of course, I prefer analog sound to digital, so I usually don’t replace my vinyl unless it is badly worn (meaning I purchased it used) or the vinyl pressing wasn’t too good. As I was looking through Ken’s list , I realized I have every album he enumerated on vinyl except JOHNNY CASH AND HIS WOMAN. No wonder my wife gets annoyed with me.

  3. Paul W Dennis January 1, 2013 at 3:00 pm

    ADDENDA

    After I had written this article, I received an e-mail catalog from Jasmine of new reissues released in late 2012. Jasmine is distributed from London, but their CDs are made in the Czech Republic. As much as I love the Bear Family sets, they are a bit price and often too exhaustive

    Jasmine started out as a jazz reissue label, but for my money (and they’ve received a pretty good amount of it from me) they are tops in reissuing country music – good sound, good music, good prices – check them out for yourself (but don’t blame me if you spend too much money !)

    http://www.hasmick.co.uk/

    The four sets I received at years’ end are very highly recommended. All come in at around $20.00 although you can usually find them for less

    THE VERSATILE ELTON BRITT – two CDs, 59 songs
    This set covers Elton’s years with ABC Paramount (1950s -1960s), with four four albums and a bunch of radio transcriptions. Elton’s peak was during the 1940s with RCA but to the end of his life he remained one of the two or three best yodellers alive. Here are remakes of his biggest RCA hits included among the selections

    KITTY WELLS: QUEEN OF THE HONKY TONK ANGELS – two CDs, 48 songs
    This Jasmine set includes four complete early Kitty Wells albums: COUNTRY HIT PARADE (1956) , DUST ON THE BIBLE (1959) , SEASONS OF MY HEART (1960) and KITTY’S CHOICE (1960) . These were Kitty’s 1st, 3rd, 6th and 7th albums – Kitty at her finest. COUNTRY HIT PARADE is actually a greates hits album collecting her hit singles, including “It Wasn’t God WHo Made Honky Tonk Angels” in its original version. Absolutely essential

    JEAN SHEPARD: THE FIRST LADY OF COUNTRY MUSIC – two CDs, 48 songs
    This Jasmine set includes 1956’s SONGS OF A LOVE AFFAIR, probably the first concept album in country music history, LONESOME LOVE (1958), THIS IS JEAN SHEPARD (1959 – this is a greatest hits album) and GOT YOU ON MY MIND (1960). Best collection of Jean Shepard outside of the Bear megaboxes

    FARON YOUNG: LIVE FAST, LOVE HARD, DIE YOUNG – two CDs, 48 songs
    Faron Young was a veritable hit machine during the 1950s charting 31 times from 1953 through 1959 with 19 top ten records. THis collection doesn’t capture all of the chart hits, but it gets most of them. Faron started out as a Hank Williams clone but he quickly developed his own unique style. This set includes SWEETHEARTS OR STRANGERS (1957), THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION (1958) , THIS IS FARON YOUNG (1959 – this too is a greatest hits album) and TALK ABOUT HITS (1959 – Faron’s covers of the hits of other artists). This collection is a really good place to start your Faron Young collection

  4. Andrew Leprich January 1, 2013 at 8:57 pm

    Very helpful and informative post, Paul. I had already purchased the John Hartford and Bobby Bare reissues along with the Johnny Cash “Bootleg” series entry, but the rest had slipped by me. The Connie Smith set is on my “to-buy” list, and while the mammoth Cash set is awfully tempting, it’s hard to justify that price when I already own a good deal of what is included.

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