My Kind of Country

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

Classic Album Review – Mac Wiseman – ‘Mac Wiseman’

Growing up as a military brat during in the 1950s and 1960s, we didn’t always live in an area where there were full time country music stations. Since Dad had a decent record collection, I was always able to listen to country music, but bluegrass wasn’t really Dad’s favorite subgenre of the music. As I recall, he had one Flatt & Scruggs album and a cheapie album by some non-descript group called Homer & The Barnstormers. Consequently, unless we lived in an area with a country radio station, I really didn’t often hear bluegrass music.

While in college I finally purchased a couple of bluegrass albums. One of the albums, Tennessee by Jimmy Martin, was on Decca. It is a great album that I highly commend to everyone.

The other album, Mac Wiseman, was on the Hilltop label. Hilltop was a reissue album that labels such as Dot, Capitol (and a few other labels that did not have their own cheap(er) reissue label) would reissue older material. Released in 1967, Hilltop JS 6047 consisted of Mac Wiseman tracks licensed from Capitol Records. While I only paid $1.29 for it brand-new, I regard it as one of the true treasures of my record collection.

With tracks recorded between 1960 and 1964, the album features a stellar collection of country and bluegrass musicians such as Ray Edenton (guitar), Benny Williams (mandolin), Joe Drumright and Buck Trent (banjo), Lew Childre (dobro) and Tommy Jackson, Buddy Spicher and Chubby Wise on fiddles.

Since it was on a budget label, the album contains only ten tracks, instead of the customary twelve tracks found on full price albums.

The album opens up with an up-tempo traditional tune “Footprints In The Snow” about a fellow who finds the love of his life by rescuing her from a blizzard. Buddy Spicher and Chubby Wise are featured on twin fiddles on this track and the next two tracks. Everyone from Bill Monroe onward recorded the song, but Mac’s version remains my favorite.

Now some folks like the summertime when they can walk about
Strolling through the meadow green it’s pleasant there no doubt
But give me the wintertime when the snow is on the ground
For I found her when the snow on the ground

I traced her little footprints in the snow
I found her little footprints in the snow
I bless that happy day when Nellie lost her way
For I found her when the snow was on the ground

Next up is “Pistol Packin’ Preacher”, written by Slim Gordon, another up-tempo romp, about a preacher who brought the gospel to the west, while being armed to defend himself and others when necessary.

“What’s Gonna Happen To Me?” is a slower song about a fellow lamenting the loss of love. This song was composed by the legendary Fred Rose with Gene Autry sometimes receiving co-writer credit. I’ve heard Autry’s version but I think Wiseman’s version is slightly better.

The flower of love came to wither and die
Our romance was never to be
No matter what happens I know you’ll get by
But what’s gonna happen to me

I’ll never be able to love someone new
Cause somehow I’ll never feel free
I’m sure you’ll find someone to care about you
But what’s gonna happen to me

“Tis Sweet To Be Remembered” is one of Mac’s signature songs. Originally recorded for Dot Records in 1957, this remake is in no way inferior to the original version. Mac is joined by Millie Kirkham and the legendary Jordanaires Quartet on this number and on the closing track of Side One, “I Love Good Bluegrass Music”.

‘Tis sweet to be remembered on a bright or gloomy day
‘Tis sweet to be remembered by a dear one far away
‘Tis sweet to be remembered remembered, remembered
‘Tis sweet to be remembered when you are far away

Side Two opens up with the lively “What A Waste of Good Corn Likker” about a fellows girl friend who falls into a vat of corn liquor and has to be ‘buried by the jug’. Unfortunately I have no session information at all about this track.

Cousin Cale upon the Jew’s harp
Played a mighty mournful tune
Kinfolks bowed their heads and gathered ’round
Then I heard the parson sing
Drink me only with thine eyes
As we watch them pour poor Lilly in the ground

Oh, what a waste of good corn liquor
From the still they pulled the plug
All the revenuers snickered ’cause she melted in the liquor
And they had to bury poor Lilly by the jug

Now I’m sitting in the twilight
‘Neath the weeping willow tree
The sun is slowly sinking in the west
And I’m clasping to my bosom
A little jug of Lilly Mae
With a broken heart I’m longing for the rest

Next up is the Marty Robbins-penned nostalgic ballad “Mother Knows Best”. Tommy Jackson and Shortly Lavender handle the twin fiddles on this track, and the next track, penned by Cindy Walker –
“Old Pair of Shoes”.

The album closes with a pair of country classics. “Dark Hollow” was penned by Bill Browning and has been recorded by dozens (maybe hundreds) of country and bluegrass artists and even such rock luminaries as the Grateful Dead. Jimmie Skinner, who straddled the fence between the two genres, had a top ten single with the song in 1959. Mac inflects the proper amount of bitterness into the vocal.

I’d rather be in some dark hollow where the sun don’t ever shine
Then to be at home alone and knowin’ that you’re gone
Would cause me to lose my mind

Well blow your whistle freight train carry me far on down the track
Well I’m going away, I’m leaving today
I’m goin’, but I ain’t comin’ back.

The album closes out with Kate Smith’s signature song “When The Moon Comes Over The Mountain”, a nostalgic ballad composed long ago by Harry Woods, Howard Johnson and Kate Smith. Kate took the song to #1 in 1931 and used it as her theme song for her various radio shows and personal appearances.

When the moon comes over the mountain
Every beam brings a dream, dear, of you
Once again we’ll stroll ‘neath the mountain
Through that rose-covered valley we knew
Each day is grey and dreary
But the night is bright and cheery
When the moon comes over the mountain
I’ll be alone with my memories of you

Many of these songs appear to be from previously uncollected singles but whatever the source, Mac Wiseman is in good voice throughout and the band completely meshes with what Mac is attempting to do. Bear Family eventually released these tracks in one of their expensive boxed sets, but for me, this album boils down the essence of Mac Wiseman in ten exquisite tracks. I still play this album often.

Grade: A+

2 responses to “Classic Album Review – Mac Wiseman – ‘Mac Wiseman’

  1. Brett January 29, 2018 at 10:43 am

    Cool review, i enjoy bringing some classic albums to light. I found a budget label reissue similar to this of 1960s era Glen Campbell which was heavily inspired by bluegrass at the time. Very cool find!

  2. Ken January 30, 2018 at 9:51 am

    Hilltop Records was a budget country music label launched in the spring of 1964 by Pickwick International based in New York City. Pickwick owned a variety of other labels including Design, Bravo, Grand Prix, Instant Language, International Award and two that specialized in children’s releases Happy Time and Cricket. Hilltop licensed recordings of well-known country acts from other labels and reissued them at bargain prices. Their initial releases included LP’s by Webb Pierce, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Ferlin Husky, Jimmy Dean and Hank Locklin.

    Hilltop selected the material they wished to license from the major record labels. However their choices were limited by those labels. In other words not everything in the vaults was available. Capitol Records had a financial interest in Pickwick for several years up until around 1970. That association facilitated the reissue of Capitol catalog material via Pickwick labels.

    Though many of the Hilltop albums were lackluster others provided a jackpot for collectors because sometimes non-LP singles & B sides were reissued along with unreleased songs. That is the case for the Mac Wiseman release that coupled early 1960’s non-LP Capitol singles with previously unissued Capitol sides.

    Though they were primarily an “album” label Hilltop also issued a number of singles with both new and vintage recordings. Johnny Paycheck’s first chart record “A-11” in 1965 was a Hilltop 45. Paycheck’s Hilltop singles were facilitated by Paycheck’s producer/manager Aubrey Mayhew who was the A&R man for Pickwick. Mayhew also created a series of albums by southern gospel acts for Hilltop featuring brand new recordings. Hilltop also released albums by unknown country singers but did not actively promote them to any extent.

    Hilltop initially charged a retail price of $1.98 for both mono and stereo albums. At that time stereo LP’s on major labels were priced $1 more than the mono release so the parity of Hilltop’s prices were consumer friendly. But because many of the songs on those releases often predated stereo studio recordings (which generally began in 1958) they were “electronically created” and merely mono recordings awash in reverb and other effects to create a fake stereo effect. To keep costs down Hilltop often used low quality vinyl so their pressings tended to be rather noisy compared to the major labels.

    A favorite technique employed by Hilltop was to license the early recordings of a popular country singer and compile them onto an album with a recent photo or artistic portrait of the singer’s current image on the cover. That dubious practice misled consumers into believing that they were purchasing recent or new recordings by their favorite star. But those vintage recordings were often poorly produced with weak material and not indicative of the performer’s current sound. Because the style of country music and recording techniques had changed quite radically over the previous decade vintage material could sound almost ancient by comparison. Hilltop also issued numerous compilation LP’s with titles like “Country Jamboree” featuring multiple artists that drew from the same well of vintage material.

    By the 1970’s many Hilltop albums were re-releases of major label LP’s that had gone out-of-print but had new cover artwork and fewer songs than the original release.

    The Hilltop Records owned by Pickwick is not to be confused with several other companies that share that same name such as HillTop but are unrelated.

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