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Buck Owens and the Buckaroos (from the album The Complete Capitol Singles: 1957 - 1966 on Omnivore Recordings)

The early days of California Country are compiled by Omnivore Recordings on a double-disc release of Buck Owens, The Complete Capitol Singles: 1957 – 1966. When Buck was signed to Capitol Records in 1957 he and The Buckaroos had logged over a decade playing bars and honky tonks in Bakersfield, California and beyond. Like musicians down through recorded music history, Buck Owens first reaction was ‘man, this is it! After all these years workin’ my ass off in all those dark, smoky clubs and taverns, I’ve finally got it made’. The reality was a lot different. The first few singles did not even make the charts, Buck Owens aware that the production of his music did not matching the live sound of The Buckaroos. He recalled in his autobiography that ‘on those early records, the producer had insisted on including all these damn background vocals…lots of guys and gals singing oohs and aahs under my stone Country vocals. It sounded ridiculous. As a matter of fact, it came out sounding a whole lot like the kind of stuff they were recording in Nashville back in those days, and the last thing I wanted was for my records to sound like those Pop-Country things they were doing down there’. Buck Owens and the Buckaroos saw a glimmer when they released the single “Second Fiddle”. Though not a huge hit, the tune rose enough to get some love for the California band and their next single release, “Under Your Spell Again” caught air, landing at number five on the music charts and jumpstarting the career of Buck Owens and the Buckaroos.

The music of Buck Owens conquered the world, his music influencing artists from The Beatles, who recorded the group’s 1963 hit “Act Naturally”, included on the Omnivore release, to Dwight Yoakam, who claims that ‘there have been four, maybe five, other artists in the history of the entire Country music genre who have left as indelible a sonic imprint’. One of the reasons that the songs collected on The Complete Capital Singles: 1957-1966 still sound as crisp as their original recordings was the care and consideration that Buck Owens put into the production. His goal was defined, Buck knowing what would work as he went into the studio, claiming that ‘the reason my Capitol records sounded the way they did—real heavy on the treble—was because I knew most people were going to be listening to ’em on their AM car radios. At the time, nobody else was doing anything like that, but it just seemed like common sense to me. And it was one more reason that you knew it was a Buck Owens record as soon as it came on the radio—because it just didn’t sound like those other records.’ The Complete Capitol Singles: 1957-1966 dials in twang with “Before You Go”, “(I Want) No One but You”, “Gonna Have Love” and revisits attacks on the heart with ballads that slowly turn around the honky tonk dance floors on “Only You (Can Break My Heart” and “In the Palm of Your Hand”. Buck Owens and the Buckaroos partner with Rose Maddox on vocals (“We’re the Talk of the Town”, “Sweethearts in Heaven”) as the Complete Capitol Singles 1957-1966 includes chartoppers such as “I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail” and a cover of the Ray Charles classic “Cryin’ Time”.

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Steve Earle (from the album Guitar Town 30th Anniversary Edition on MCA Nashville)

Many folks feel age when they see their friend’s children grown at rapid rates. Music marks chalk lines on the doorframe with album release dates. Steve Earle’s Guitar Town turns 30, the celebration marked by with a re-issue that includes previously unreleased concert catches of the tunes from the album and beyond. Country music had a longtime crush on rock’n’roll, keeping mixed relations between the genres closeted. Steve Earle kicked down the doors, presenting an equal love for rock’n’roll and Country without bringing any seams. Guitar Town spread Jersey shore sand in the South, from the mountains to the prairies. Steve Earle took the victim from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Southern Man and gave him a sly Country wisdom that showed a depth in his decisions and a strong back for his rebellion. The original album has become a greatest hits package in the rearview mirror, the tracks leading from their release into the fabric of a culture that learns way more from the music than from those old folks at home.

Steve Earle introduces “My Old Friend the Blues” as the show-and-tell of a particularly morose period. The live addition to the re-issue of a nineteen-song show recorded in Chicago, Illinois at the Park West in 1986, the same release year as Guitar Town. The recording hosts the tracks from Guitar Town, debuting the future with tunes “The Devil’s Right Hand” and vacation diaries with “The Week of Living Dangerously” as well as Bruce Springsteen’s “State Trooper”. When Steve Earle strums the opening to “Someday” the electric crackle is from the sparks of a musician on a meteoric ride that would begin a career. The remastered original uses the title track to once again introduce a character with a big heart that shines with the light of opportunity. “Someday” and “Hillbilly Highway” shine a light down the road, “Good Ol’ Boy Gettin’ Tough” fleshes a man of the south entering as an equal, and “Little Rock’n’Roller” waves to a child at home from the back of a tour bus

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Little Feat (from the album Sailin’ Shoes)

It was three little words that Lowell George claimed was the reason for Frank Zappa asking Lowell to leave The Mothers of Invention. While the lyrical hook, ‘weed, whites, and wine’ has become part of history as expressed in the truck driver anthem “Willin’”, it has also been floated that Frank believed Lowell George was too talented to be a backing guitarist. The reasons are in the past, and what is left is a song forever attached to Little Feat, the group that Lowell George formed with Bill Payne in 1969 Los Angeles, California. Like peers The Band and the Grateful Dead, Little Feat were a melting pot of American musical sounds as evidenced on their second album release, Sailin’ Shoes (1972). The group’s self-titled debut hinted at what Sailin’ Shoes, and subsequent Little Feat releases, embraced. In the days of pre-Americana, hybrids were encouraged as was experimentation. Born in Hollywood, California, Lowell George played Blues, Soul, Folk, and Rock’n’Roll like a son of the south.

Keyboardist Bill Payne returned boogie to rock’n’roll in Little Feat, trading riffs with Lowell George’s slide guitar on the Sailin’ Shoes track “Tripe Face Boogie” while his accordion pumps up “Trouble” and his electric piano puts a funk into “Got No Shadow”. Bill Payne leads the charge into the Blues of “Cat Fever”, which features Bill on vocals. Sailin’ Shoes kicks off with slashed chords and advice as Lowell George warns that it is “Easy to Slip”. “Willin” enters quietly on acoustic chords as Richie Hayward’s bass drum hits a heartbeat, the track building with Bill Payne’s piano sparkling and Flying Burrito Brother, Sneaky Pete Kleinow’s pedal steel giving the song wings. Sailin’ Shoes introduces a ‘lady in a turban and a cocaine tree’ in its title track, finger pointing at love leaving when the TV breaks down in “Cold Cold Cold”, and chops up a groove with drum and guitar to profess “A Apolitical Blues”. Little Feat give big love for rock’n’roll by laundry listing the reasons that the music that took over the world is nothing by bad for ya’ as they barrel roll through “Teenage Nervous Breakdown”.

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Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, and the Nashville Cats – A New Music City - Columbia Records celebrates the musical stampede that followed Bob Dylan to Nashville with the album Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, and The Nashville Cats – A New Music City. The album is released in conjunction with Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame exhibit of the same name honoring the artists and times. Complementing what was going on in the studios of Nashville, Johnny Cash was offering guest spots to Folk and Rock’n’Roll musicians on his groundbreaking television program.  Players such as Norman Putnam, Buddy Spicher, and Earl Scruggs were appearing on album credits for The Byrds, Neil Young, Steve Miller, and three of the four solo recordings from The Beatles. The recording of Blonde on Blonde was not the starting point of the scene that followed, it lit fuse that made it impossible to separate the genres, or for either Country or Rock music to claim sole parenthood for the songs.

The Nashville Cats – A New Music City retroactively shows that Rock and Country audiences were listening to the same music without realizing the crossover that the artists heard in the music. San Francisco band Mother Earth boasted the Bluesy Country voice of Tracy Nelson, who is on the album with a cover of Hank Williams “I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry” with Bob Dylan tunes offered as cover by Flatt and Scruggs (“Down in the Flood”), and Johnny Cash (“It Ain’t Me Babe”).  

As the history behind us becomes more inclusive, it is tough to hear the separation between the songs and the artists that caused such an upheaval of the status quo when they were originally released. The tracks, and artists offered on Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, and The Nashville Cats – a New Music City stay very close to the Columbia Records barn they called home. Canadian Gordon Lightfoot offers “The Way I Feel”, John Hartford sings “Gentle on My Mind”, Country Joe McDonald performs Woody Guthrie’s “Blowing Down this Old Dusty Road”, Charlie McCoy is “Harpoon Man”, and Leonard Cohen sees “Bird on a Wire”. The Byrds have two tracks on the album with Dylan’s “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” and Gram Parsons “Hickory Wind”. Included on the album is an original commercial for The Byrds Country Rock calling card, Sweethearts of the Rodeo that showcases snippets of the album songs with listeners repeating ‘that’s not The Byrds’. Kris Kristofferson is captured with a demo for his “If You Don’t Like Hank Williams” where he marries artists from the rock and country sides in his song lyrics.

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Various Artists ( from the album First Came Memphis Minnie) - Lizzie Douglas was born in 1897 in Algiers, Louisiana, a community within New Orleans on the west bank of the Mississippi River. Music was close by to the young girl but the city she adopted as a home, and used to brand her music was further north in Tennessee. Memphis Minnie was the persona that set the name Lizzie was born with aside. Memphis Minnie was a Blues guitarist, singer and songwriter with a two decade recording career from the early 1930’s through the 1950’s. In a field dominated by men, Memphis Minnie careved out a spot that she had no trouble keeping for her own. Stony Plains Records has gathered contemporary Blues ladies that owe Minnie for the path she cleared and the songs she wrote.

Maria Muldaur helms eight of the albums thirteen tracks. She is joined by Ruthie Foster (“Keep Your Big Mouth Closed”), Phoebe Snow (“In My Girlish Days”), Bonnie Raitt (“Ain’t Nothin’ in Ramblin’”), Rory Block (“When You Love Me”) and Koko Taylor (“Black Rat Swing”). Maria Muldaur offers “Tricks Ain’t Walkin’” as one of the tracks she covers. The song was an introduction to Memphis Minnie for a younger Maria when she met the original Blues Queen, Victoria Spivey, in 1963. The scratchy 78 that Victoria spun immediately formed an audio bond between Maria and Minnie. Maria states in the liner notes for ….First Came Memphis Minnie, “From that moment to this, Memphis Minnie and the example she set has remained a profound influence on my life and my music. She has also influenced may other Blues artists. That is why I wanted to make this tribute album. Here, I have joined with some of my Sisters in Music to pay tribute to the woman that inspired us and paved the way for us all.”

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