Sunday, August 16, 2015

Roy Acuff-King Of Country Music (Box Set)

Arist: Roy Acuff
Album: King Of Country Music
Label: Proper
Year: 2004

A few housekeeping notes. The first is that the image I'll be using an image of my copy of the CDs/records going forward. I just think it'll be more personal. In the same spirit, I'll try to include my history with the artist/album into the reviews, and hopefully the reviews will be more personal that way. So on to the review!
I picked up this release at J&R Music World in NYC, sometime in college. It was at the time, the most highly regarded compilation on Allmusic, and I believe, to this day, remains the most comprehensive of all his compilations. Unfortunately, I never listened to it in full until now. Why? Well, for one thing: I am terrible at making it through entire box sets. Another thing is that I learned during college that Proper Records may not be the fairest label. My understanding is that they have taken remastering work done by other labels, and since much of what they release is in the public domain, they tend to get away with it. So I held a skeptical eye on this box set, until now.
The release is a total revelation. The other Roy Acuff compilations I have, a single disc budget release from Columbia, and his Bear Family compilation of the same name, aren't as effective as this one. I'll address both of those in my next two reviews (both discs I owned before this box set), but in short, the latter covers his mid-40s to late-50s period, which isn't as good as his earliest stuff, and the former disc is a mere 12 or so songs. Acuff is called the "King Of Country Music" and it's not hard to hear why. With a career that truly began, in earnest, almost right after the passing of Jimmie Rodgers, Acuff covers a lot of the same ground, but his longevity and breadth of his work is far greater than Rodgers, who died far too early and young. From song structure, to song topics (many, many songs about trains, which Rodgers, "The Singing Brakeman", was also known for), Acuff picks up where Rodgers left off, and runs with it for the next 40+ years.
His voice is very toned-down early on. Even the end of the box set (which moves chronologically), eventually shows a performer more comfortable with belting out tunes. But early on, his voice is very restrained and calm. And early on, there's an incredible diversity to his songs and song structure, especially considering the age of the recordings. "You're The Only Star In My Blue Heaven" moves at a slow pace, and it's intro seems unusually long. In "Mule Skinner Blues", he evokes Rodgers' signature yodeling sound, more evidence of tribute he's playing to the genre's originator. In "Stuck Up Blues", he evokes a white, southern populism, rallying against the rich and those in power who seek to control the little guy.
On songs like "I'll Forgive But I Can't Forget" and "Be Honest With Me", his "new voice" starts to appear. Based on the other compilation I have from Acuff, his voice sounded noticeably different starting in the mid-1940s. While I think it'll grow on me, I prefer the toned-down sound of his earlier recordings.
Towards the end of the compilation, on the final disc, a lot of the spirit and uniqueness of the early recordings starts to disappear. There are a few instrumental tracks which are of no real significance. After that, however, there are three songs which are among the most explicitly religious of all in the set, and it honestly sounds like addressing that subject matter more directly may have given him a bit more excitement, and reinvigorated him. The songs are superb and a great way to end the set.
At over 100 songs, combined with the other two sets I have, this is likely all the Acuff I need. Can't believe it took me so long to really check it out.

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