Tuesday, August 25, 2015
Two More By Roy Acuff
Album: The King Of Country Music
Label: Bear Family Records
Artist: Roy Acuff
Album: Columbia Historic Edition
Label: Sony Music
Two more by Roy Acuff. The former, a 2-disc set released on the superb Bear Family Records, covers two CDs worth of material recorded mostly between 1945-1960. This is the era immediately after the era covered in the previous review, from Proper Records, also called The King Of Country Music. I'm no country music scholar by any stretch, but the first thing that comes to mind to me when hearing this batch of songs is The Grand Old Opry. This isn't "mountain music" from the hills of the Appalachian Mountains anymore. The songs are more lively and upbeat, and certainly more orchestrated than on his earlier recordings.
To me, this is both good and bad, I suppose. I really, really enjoy solo-blues and country music from the pre-1950s era, though as time has gone on, I have begun to appreciate full-band recordings from this genre a bit more. The opening track, "Tied Down" sets the mood for the set. More than anything, the production values also set this set apart from his earlier recordings. By the mid-1940s, certainly recording equipment and studios had greatly improved, and it shows.
On the upside, Acuff's songwriting moves in new and different directions with this set. Songs like "The Great Speckled Bird" and "I Like Mountain Music" are classics and deservedly so. They are absolutely beautiful, fun, anthemic songs. There's also a bit of darkness in several songs. "Oh Those Tombs" and his rendition of "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord" have dark, haunting moments that clearly foreshadow the likes of Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash and the black, underside of country music. Similarly, some of his gospel tunes a re absolutely superb, and the last ten tracks on the compilation all fall under that category.
If this set has a fault, it's that we also get the start of some really, really, generic songs. Acuff pumped out music well through the 1970s, so I do not begrudge someone for repeating himself and others while making music for 40 years. With that said, songs like "When that Great Ship Went Down" and "Don't Judge Your Neighbor" are dull, boring, and repetitive, both lyrically and musically. There is just nothing special about these songs. Again, I'm not a country music scholar at all, but there is so much music to absorb from the greats. I have to imagine these performers were constantly performing new music. But it's not all brilliant and special.
That's okay though. For the most part, the songs across this compilation are absolutely wonderful, and a testament to Acuff's greatness.
The other compilation I have is the earliest Acuff CD I own. From the sound of it, it's mostly material from his earlier years. I am also convinced that the version of "Wabash Cannonball" that appears on this compilation is different than the one on the Proper box. No matter. While the sound quality can be a little shrill, this is how I initially fell in love with Acuff, so I suppose I'll hang on to this compilation.