Label / Cat No: Gusto Records - SD-968X
First Released: 1976
What I Say...
Something strange is happening in Forgotten Albums land (yeah, it's a real place. Shut up.) You see, in the past I've listened to these albums once, maybe twice and reviewed almost as a knee-jerk reaction. But in relaunching this site, and almost by accident I've heard this one now maybe a dozen times, and something strange happened. Despite hating it the first couple listens, I think in this case at least, familiarity has bred content rather than contempt. I'm not going to be adding this to my list of top 100 favourite albums anytime soon, but if you persevere past the two opening tracks, there is something of merit here.
A very quick recap - This album opens with the two 'recitations' - Red Sovine ladles on the emotion in a spoken word short story over a competent country music background. But, but.... at the end of track 2, 'Little Rosa', he finally bursts into song and shows us what he can do, and boy can he do it. It's a great country voice, even if he overreaches at times (listen to the soundclip of 'It Ain't No Big Thing' to see what I mean). It's not one of the all time classic voices, but it's warm and emotive and perfectly suited to this kind of material.
I think it's fair to say that Good Ol' Red isn't breaking any new ground here with either the arrangements or the subject matter of the songs. But then why would he. This is traditional country from Nashville in 1975 - he's hardly likely to be the godfather of disco now, is he? I did find that after a while I was giving more honest subtitles to the songs which I think give a flavour is what we have here.
1. Teddy Bear = Disablement of a child is sad
2. Little Rosa = Death of a child is sad
3. It Ain't No Big Thing = My gal is leaving me
4. Last Mile Of The Way = My gal doesn't appreciate me
5. Bootlegger King = Redeemed by love and Jesus
1. Daddy = My Dad is better than your Dad
2. Love Is = Love is cliches
3. 1460 Elder Street = I'm responsible for the death of a man
4. Does Steppin' Out Mean Daddy Took a Walk = My Dad is worse that your Dad
5. 18 Wheels Hummin' Home Sweet Home = I love my truck - in a healthy way, of course
6. Sad Violins = Sadness is sad
In line with my more usual musical tastes, this album reminded me of Frank Zappa for two reasons. Firstly, there's the fact that when the PMRC were looking to censor or ban records for inappropriate content, one of the leading opposers to any legislation was Zappa for fairly obvious reasons. However, an unlikely ally in the fight against censorship was the Country Music fraternity. Because Country music deals with death, alcohol, and the darker side of the human condition it was ripe to become a target of a blanket censorship created by more sensitive individuals. It may be packaged in a traditional, homely format, but this tradition of Country song is folk music in its essence, songs that deal with the dark realities of life and living.
Secondly, there's more than a touch of 'Truck Driver Divorce' about this album, see...
There are another couple of songs I'd like to highlight. 1460 Elder Street is what you'd get if Porter Waggoner and Roald Dahl had joined forces for an episode of 'Tales of the Unexpected'. A soldier, about to be drafted out to Vietnam picks up a married woman who confides that she's lonesome as her husband is away fighting. After a torrid night of love (my interpretation, I add - Red is far too much of a gentleman to give any of the details away), she decides that she wants to be with the narrator, and tells him that after he comes back, he can live with her at 1460 Elder Street.
Some weeks later, in the heat of battle a grenade lands near our 'hero', and another soldier with nothing left to live for leaps onto the grenade killing himself but saving our chap. When he looks through his effects, he finds a 'Dear John' letter from the late soldier's wife. The return address being.... I won't insult your intelligence.
But this troubles me. You see, the woman in this story gets together with our man because she's lonely as her husband is away. And yet the man she chooses to replace him with is also a soldier and is also going away. How is this going to make things any different or better. And a man died because of this inconsistency. I shouldn't let it bother me, I really shouldn't. But it does.
For me though, there is one standout track on the album, and that's the side one closer 'Bootlegger King'. So it's a trite tale of a dirt poor boy who turns to crime, but is ultimately saved by the love of a good woman, the birth of his child, and finding Jesus. But it's a wryly observed bit of writing, and the music is just excellent. All those ingredients - piano, guitar, steel, fiddly are balanced just perfectly, each taking it in turn to shine, all over a rolling Johnny Cash style beat. It's a catchy little number, and no mistakin'. If there's one lasting tune from this album that makes it into one of my regular listens, it'll be this one.
I'm not ashamed to say I actually quite like this album. Well, I am a little ashamed, and I am of course excluding the title track, but overall it's a good Country album. The musicianship is brilliant, the arrangements excellent, and Red Sovine has a warm and inviting voice. I can't help but with he'd put it to slightly better use, but hey, it was a different time.
And for those of you who remember those heady, carefree days of part one of this review, this is the two minutes of scratched vinyl that was a welcome relief after the first two songs.
1. Teddy Bear
2. Little Rosa
3. It Ain't No Big Thing
4. Last Mile Of The Way
5. Bootlegger King
2. Love Is
3. 1460 Elder Street
4. Does Steppin' Out Mean Daddy Took A Walk
5. 18 Wheels Hummin' Home Sweet Home
6. Sad Violins
3 or 7 out of 10, depending on whether it's the first listen or the sixth...