Sings Harlan Howard
Produced by Ken Nelson
While sources are inconsistent–likely because facts are hard to determine when an artist comes from poor rootless beginnings–apparently Harlan was born in Detroit in 1927 and grew up in Michigan and Kentucky. He didn’t find success in his life’s calling until he was in his 30s, just before settling in Nashville and recording this debut album.
While he released a few of his own albums, he will be remembered mostly as a songwriter, for writing thousands of songs, many of which would become hits for various artists, first for hillbilly stars but also for soul and jazz artists. For example “Busted” would be a hit for both Johnny Cash and Ray Charles in 1963, and while “Chokin’ Kind” was first recorded by Waylon Jennings, it would become Joe Simon’s first number-one hits on the R&B charts.
This album came at a time when he was beginning to make a name for himself, and this set showed that he likely wasn’t going to run out of songs, as this features all new songs–from heartbroken ballads to the rather-dark humor of “We’re Proud to Call Him Son.” While Howard will be remembered for his songwriting (and for defining country music as “three chords and the truth”), this albums shows he had a good voice, perhaps coming out of Hank Williams and Ernest Tubb (although I’m sure he’d note others as well) and perhaps he should have been given more opportunities to record his own material. This isn’t essential but it suggests that fans of this artist (or hillbilly music in general) might be advised to check out Howard’s own recordings (along with the material he provided for others).
“We’re Proud to Call Him Son” download:
Miss Smith Goes To Nashville
Produced by Bob Ferguson
Connie’s third album (and the first of three released in 1966).
Produced by Bob Ferguson
***** Good Shit
While some of her female contemporaries might be more well known, Connie could easily stand next to any of them, as this debut album surely shows.
Bill Anderson is credited on nearly half of the selections, the other songs credited to a variety of other songwriters: Betty Sue Perry, William B. Morgan, Baker Knight, Hank Cochran, and Willie Nelson. All of the cuts are good, and the majority are great.
Ferguson’s production is a wonderful balance of just enough but not too much, and the same can be said about the band’s contributions. Smith’s beautiful voice is wisely the center of all the songs, but the involvement of others help make this such a classic. She’s the statue, and the others rise her up and provide the lighting to accent her beauty. This is a work of art built to last.
Any respectable fan of hillbilly music, should give this set a spin. If you’re looking for a place to begin with this artist, you just found it.
— winch (author of Junk Like That and Kalamazoo: Growing Up Sideways in the 1970s)
Rev offers a set of folk/hillbilly, a bit of a surprise from this Ohio underground legend, but it’s no surprise that this is an enjoyable set.
Eight Track Publishing
Blacken & Curl
Rating: **** (Recommended)
Portland, Oregon cowboy, crawling along like a mule through the desert, mostly minimal instrumentations, but sometimes backed with string arrangements and occasionally horns from south of the border coming through the dry air.
This is another example of Oregon getting back to their hillbilly roots, showing that the boot fits.
Producer: Rick Hall
Rating: **** (Recommended)
The title track starts off sounding a bit too much like a sequel to “Ode to Billy Joe,” but soon the song takes on a life all its own and becomes another classic short story by Gentry. A reading of Bacharach-David’s “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” comes second on the bill, and while Warwick got the big hit from this song, Gentry’s version is the one to end all, and its melancholy fits perfectly after the title track. The third cut also fits in the progression with our protaginast going back to the South for her “Delta Man.” The themes also mirror the story of Gentry and the recording of this album. In 1969, Gentry not only married Mr. Harrah, she also left him. Then came this record, her first produced by Rick Hall at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. With the first song, we have the character leaving the Delta, but by the third she’s back where she belongs.
While that opening was hard to follow, Gentry has no problem keeping it interesting and enjoyable. We certainly didn’t need another version of “Raindrops…” or “Wedding Bell Blues,” but the other hand-me-downs are top-notch, Gentry easily alternating between folk-rock and soul, switching the point of view with Leon Russell’s “Delta Lady” and James Taylor’s “Something in the Way She Moves,” breathing life into Nillson’s “Rainmaker” and returning Rudy Clark’s “If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody” back to the States, offering more than respectable versions of Bettye LaVette’s “He Made a Woman Out of Me” and George Jackson’s “Find ‘Em, Fool ‘Em and Forget ‘Em” (co-written with Rick Hall). Some cuts work better than others, but most work like good-luck charms.
While some have argued that these songs didn’t really fit Gentry, I’m not sure how they came to that conclusion. She takes the material and tailors it to fit like a satin dress on a beautifully built lady, one like Bobbie Gentry. If you don’t like this album, you might as well give it up, take a slow walk on a trestle bridge, chuck yourself over the side when the train comes, jump off or get on board. Gentry was an American original, captured this country as well as anyone. Some complain that she shouldn’t have dropped out of the music scene, or should have came back, but I don’t know why anybody would try to tell Gentry what to do. She obviously knew what she was doing; otherwise she wouldn’t have made albums like this.
(author of Kalamazoo: Growing Up Sideways in the 1970s)