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Album Review: ‘The Very Best of David Frizzell & Shelly West’

One of the hottest male-female duet acts of the early 80s, David Frizzell and Shelly West released four studio albums together. None of them ever had a CD release, nor are they currently in print. However, this 2009 anthology includes all of their big hits, plus a few misses and some key alubm cuts, and provides a more than adequate overview of their duet career.

The younger brother of Lefty Frizzell, David had had a singles deal with Columbia from 1970 to 1976. Only one of those recordings, 1970’s “I Just Can’t Stop Believin'” (not included in this collection) cracked the Top 40; the rest languished in obscurity on the lower rungs of the charts. His younger brother Allen joined his band in 1977. Alan had been the lead guitarist for Dottie West, and had married West’s daughter Shelly. Shelly began performing with David, and eventually they caught the attention of producer Snuff Garrett. Their big break came in 1981 when their recording of “You’re The Reason God Made Oklahoma” was included in the Clint Eastwood film Any Which Way You Can. The song was written by the legendary Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, along with Larry Collins and Sandy Pinkard. It reached the #1 spot on the Billboard country singles chart. It was the duo’s biggest hit, telling the story of a couple dealing with a painful separation when one of them leaves their hometown for the bright lights of the big city. It’s a theme that the duo would explore a number of times, beginning with their follow-up hit “Texas State of Mind”, which peaked at #9 and the following year’s “Another Honky-tonk Night On Broadway”, which reached #8. Of the three songs, it isn’t difficult to see why “Oklahoma” is the best-remembered (the other two have been virtually forgotten); it is the best-written of the three songs and also managed to avoid some of the early 80s production excesses that marred the other two records; there is a somewhat intrusive string section on “Texas State of Mind”. While this is less of a problem on “Broadway”, “Oklahoma” sounds the least dated and would stand a reasonable chance at success today with very little tinkering to the arrangement.

In between “Texas State of Mind” and “Another Honky-tonk Night on Broadway”, Frizzell and West did an excellent cover version of Roger Miller’s “Husbands and Wives”, which peaked at #16. One of Miller’s more serious efforts, his original 1966 version had reached #5, as well as reaching #26 on the Hot 100. Brooks & Dunn would cover it again in 1998 and take it all the way to #1 on the country charts. Their version also reached the Hot 100, peaking at #36.

Frizzell and West stopped recording together after 1985. It was speculated that West’s acrimonious divorce from Allen Frizzell was a contributing factor, but the rest of the songs in this collection — and their performances on the charts — suggest that the official reason, a lack of good duet material, was probably the truth. The duo had only one more Top 10 hit, 1982’s “I Just Came Here To Dance”, a cover of an R&B hit by Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack. The Frizzell and West version is barely country, yet managed to reach #4. Their next release, the decent but somewhat overproduced “Please Surrender” only reached #43. 1983’s “Cajun Invitation” was a song that I liked a lot when it was first released, but it sounds very cheesy today. The duo reached the Top 20 two more times in 1984 with the beautiful “Silent Partners” and “It’s a Be-Together Night”. Their final single together “Do Me Right”, released in 1985, failed to chart at all.

Also included in this collection are some very good non-single releases. “Carryin’ On The Family Names”, which was the title track of their first duet album, name checks other stars such as Hank Williams Jr., Rex Allen Jr., Debby Boone, and Crystal Gayle, who, like David and Shelly, were trying to emerge from the shadows of their more famous relatives. Also quite good is a medey of “The Wild Side of Life” and “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky-tonk Angels” which are performed as a single song, much like Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter had earlier done. Missing the mark entirely, however is a cover version of the 1963 Ruby and the Romantics’ R&B hit “Our Day Will Come.”

The collection does not include any of David or Shelly’s solo hits, which is a shame, because there is sufficient room on the disc for “I’m Gonna Hire a Wino To Decorate Our Home”, “Lost My Baby Blues”, “Jose Cuervo” and “Flight 309 To Tennessee”. It does, however, include one solo performance by Shelly of “I Just Fall In Love Again”, which is very good, though it does not compare with Anne Murray’s version that topped the country charts for three weeks in 1979.

David and Shelly’s careers — as a duo and as solo artists — were largely over before the CD era, so very little of their work was ever released in that format. This collection appears to about the best that is currently available, and will suffice for all but the most die-hard fans.

Grade: B+

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