My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: The Chuck Wagon Gang

Classic Rewind: The Chuck Wagon Gang – ‘Echoes From The Burning Bush’

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Album Review: Buddy Miller – ‘Universal United House of Prayer’

410LpFPxXNLI’ve listened to this albums several times through, and in some respects I am still not quite sure what to make of it. It isn’t really a country album, although there are tracks that sound decidedly country, and it isn’t R&B, although some songs have an R&B feel.

Universal United House of Prayer is an album of religiously themed music, although certainly not in the same sense as the music of the Blackwood Brothers, Chuck Wagon Gang or the Swan Silvertones. It seems an odd choice for Buddy’s first release on the New West label yet it is completely appropriate in that it has always been difficult pigeonhole Buddy’s secular music, so why should his religious music be any different?

Most of the songs are good and most of the performances are solid, yet this album really didn’t square with my idea of religious music. I regard the whole as being less than the sum of the parts.

Buddy had a hand in writing seven of the eleven songs on the album, four of them co-writes with wife Julie, plus co-writes with Victoria Williams and Jim Lauderdale. Julie Miller wrote one song by herself.

The album opens with “Worry Too Much” was penned by the late Mark Heard. Heard was essentially a rock songwriter and Buddy sings this as a rock song. I would like this song better in different surroundings

It’s the demolition derby
It’s the sport of the hunt
Proud tribe in full war-dance
It’s the slow smile that the bully gives the runt

It’s the force of inertia
It’s the lack of constraint
It’s the children out playing in the rock garden
All dolled up in black hats and war paint

Fiddle and drum dominate the sound of the Louvin Brothers’ country gospel classic “There’s A Higher Power”. It’s not bad but it is not the Louvins; however, the Louvin Brothers lyrics are always worthwhile:

When burdens seem to overcome
(There’s a higher power)
Who’s faithful and refuses none
(There’s a higher power)

Then why ask men to help you through?
(There’s a higher power)
They’re helpless pilgrims just like you
(There’s a higher power)

Let’s sing it, shout it, walk it, talk it
(There’s a higher power)
Lay down your soul ’cause Jesus bought it
(There’s a higher power)

Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen
(There’s a higher power)
Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen
(There’s a higher power)

Buddy and Julie collaborated on “Shelter Me” with uplifting strong backing vocals by Regina and Ann McCrary. I regard this as the best of Buddy Miller’s songwriting contributions to this album

The earth can shake, the sky come down
The mountains all fall to the ground
But I will fear none of these things
Shelter me Lord, underneath your wings

Dark waters rise and thunders pound
The wheels of war are going round
And all the walls are crumbling
Shelter me Lord, underneath Your wings

Shelter me Lord)
(Shelter me Lord)
Hide me underneath Your wings
(Shelter me Lord)
Hide me deep inside Your heart

(Shelter me Lord)
In your refuge, cover me
The world can shake
But Lord, I’m making You my hiding place

Miller’s take on Bob Dylan’s “With God on Our Side” runs nine minutes. Buddy’s vocals are strong and believable but a nine minute song is simply too long

The rest of the album plods along. All of the songs are good but nothing especially stands out for me. I am probably being unfair but the album wasn’t country enough for my tastes, Buddy’s guitar work was excellent throughout and the aforementioned McCrary Sisters (featured on nine of the tracks) are a real highlight with their almost ephemeral harmonies.

I would give this album a “B”. Folks more inclined to like rock or alt-country will probably rate it higher.

The best reissues of 2015

As is always the case, most of the best reissues of American Country Music come from Europe. There are several reasons for this:

1 – Until recently, European copyrights on recordings were only good for 50 years. This changed recently to 70 years, but the change was not retroactive. What this means is that all recordings made before 1963 have lost their copyright protection in Europe.

2 – The European customer for country music is more traditionally oriented than American audiences. This holds true for many forms of music including rockabilly, rock & roll, rhythm & blues, pop standards, you name it. European audiences, unlike their American counterparts, have not discarded the past.

3 – American Record labels simply don’t care – I’d elaborate, but there’s no point to it.

It should be noted that some of these albums may have been issued before 2015 but became generally available during 2015 through various markets.

We’ll start off with two box sets from the gold standard of reissue labels, Bear Family:

chuck wagon gang1. THE CHUCK WAGON GANG – THE COMPLETE RECORDINGS (1936-1955)

Released in late 2014, but not generally available until this year, this Bear Family five disc set compiles the gospel recordings of Dad Carter’s family gospel group. Marty Stuart wrote the forward to the accompanying book.

This Carter Family is NOT related to the Carter Family clan associated with A.P., Sara, Mother Maybelle, and June Carter, but was a successful gospel group that was with Columbia Records from 1936 to 1975, selling thirty-nine million records in the process. Consisting of D.P. (Dad) Carter and son Jim (Ernest) and daughters Rose (Lola) and Anna (Effie), this group was formed in 1935 in Lubbock, Texas, and became one of the most popular gospel groups of its time, performing a very traditional form of country gospel music. They were the first group to record Albert Brumley’s “I’ll Fly Away”.

The group continues to this day, although all of the original members have since passed away. This set won’t be to everyone’s taste in gospel music so I’d suggest that you listen to a few tracks before purchasing the set. The humble sincerity and beauty of the singing will likely have you reconsidering your idea of gospel music.

singing fisherman2. JOHNNY HORTON – THE SINGING FISHERMAN: THE COMPLETE RECORDINGS OF JOHNNY HORTON
Also released in late 2014, this nine disc set chronicles the recording career of one of the brightest stars of the Louisiana Hayride, whose life was cut short in 1960 when he was killed in an automobile accident. Some may recall that Johnny Cash was one of his best friends and some may remember that his widow was also the widow of Hank Williams Sr.

To the extent that Johnny Horton is remembered today, it is for the recordings he made with Columbia Records starting in 1956 with “Honky Tonk Man” and “I’m A One Woman Man”, songs thirty years later covered for hits later by Dwight Yoakam and George Jones.
Johnny’s biggest hit was “The Battle of New Orleans” which reached #1 on both the pop (six weeks) and country charts (ten weeks)in 1959. He had two other #1 records in “When It’s Springtime In Alaska” (1959) and “North to Alaska” released ten days after his death.

Those great Columbia Recordings are all here, but Johnny was an active recording artist from 1952 forward, recording with Abbott Records and Mercury Records, as well as some smaller labels. The Abbott Recordings were pretty pedestrian but Johnny cut some real treasures for Mercury, some of which were regional hits. Those long-lost earlier recordings are here as well, sounding as good as they will ever sound. These recordings encompass Johnny singing straight country , western, rockabilly and historical saga songs. The set comes with two hardcover books.

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Album Review: Various Artists – ‘Orthophonic Joy’

orthophonic joyThis project seems to have been in the works for some time, as I remember hearing about it last summer with a projected release date of October 2014. Now at last it has made its way into the world, and it was worth the wait.

It is a tribute to the 1927-8 recording sessions in Bristol, Tennessee, which really created country music as a recording genre, with the artists including Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family. A generous 18 tracks, spread across two discs, interspersed with spoken segments by Eddie Stubbs, veteran Opry compere. The songs are performed by a range of latterday luminaries, while Stubbs provides informative commentary which is well worth listening to, with small snippets from the original recordings. Carl Jackson acts as producer, and the musicians do a wonderful job recreating the original backings.

The Carter Family were one of the great successes of early country music, and several of the songs they sang at Bristol are included in this project. Emmylou Harris takes on ‘Bury Me Under The Willow’, another traditional song which was the first song the Carters recorded. Ashley Monroe’s version ‘The Storms Are On The Ocean’ is very charming and one of my favourite tracks here. Rock (and occasional country) singer Sheryl Crow sings ‘The Wandering Boy’ very well.

Vince Gill isn’t the most obvious choice to play the part of Jimmie Rodgers, but ‘The Soldier’s Sweetheart’ is a ballad well suited to his plaintive vocal, and this WWI ballad is another highlight.

Ernest ‘Pop’ Stoneman was already an established recording artist when he contributed to the Bristol sessions with various musical partners. One of the songs he performed, the religious ‘I Am Resolved’, is performed here by the Shotgun Rubies, with bluegrass singer Val Storey’s sweet, tender lead vocal.

Religious songs were a very important element of the repertoire of these early musicians. Bluegrass legend Doyle Lawson and his band Quicksilver tackle the traditional gospel tune ‘I’m Redeemed’, originally recorded by the little known Alcoa Quartet, a local acappella group, whose name came from the steelworks where two of the men worked.

Dolly Parton sings ‘When They Ring Those Golden Bells’, recorded at Bristol by the Reverend Alfred Karnes, and does so with great sincerity. Karnes’ selections are well represented in this project. The roots of country, blues and gospel all draw from the same well and blues musician Keb Mo’ performs a soulful version of ‘To The Work’, with the help of a 12 year old protege. The Church Sisters take on the slow ‘Where We’ll Never Grow Old’.

Marty Stuart brings great energy to the banjo tune ‘Black Eyed Susie’, originally recorded by a local farmer. Comedian and banjo player Steve Martin is joined by the Steep Canyon Rangers for the Tenneva Ramblers’ comic ‘Sweet Heaven When I Die’. Glen Campbell’s children Shannon and Ashley sing Blind Alfred Reed’s tale of a real life train tragedy, ‘The Wreck Of The Old Virginian’, and do a fine job.

Larry Cordle sings ‘Gotta Catch That Train’, supported by the Virginian Luthiers, a band led by a grandson of the fiddler on the original session. Bluegrass star Jesse McReynolds, now 85, and another grandson of an original musician from the Bristol sessions, plays that grandfather’s fiddle on ‘Johnny Goodwin’ (now better known as The Girl I Left Behind’), one of the tunes he recorded.

Superstar Brad Paisley is joined by producer Carl Jackson for a beautifully played and nicely harmonised version of ‘In The Pines’. Jackson takes the lead on the murder ballad ‘Pretty Polly’, recorded at Bristol by the uneducated farmer B F Shelton, who also recorded the moonshine fuelled ‘Darling Cora’. 20 year old newcomer Corbin Hayslett sings and plays banjo on the latter, and he has a very authentic old-time style which defies his youth.

The Chuck Wagon Gang close proceedings with the choral ‘Shall we Gather At The River’, the last song recorded at Bristol, joined by the massed artists involved in this project.

I would have liked the liner notes to be included with the digital version of the album, but Stubbs’ knowledgeable discussion betwee songs makes up for this lack. This is a very educational album which brings home the significance of the sessions and their place in music history. It is also highly enjoyable listening, beautifully played, arranged and produced.

Grade: A