This double CD set is a historic treat for fans of the man billed as the gold standard of country singing. Far from just another collection of Jones gems trotted out almost every year, it's a worthwhile package of rare and mostly out-of-print recordings on the Musicor label from 1965 to 1972.
Jones made 250 recordings for Musicor in that period, which many consider his peak as an artist. After that, when he jumped to Epic, the label of his wife, Tammy Wynette, there was a noticeable change in his unadorned signature sound. The difference becomes obvious when comparing the 24 tracks on this set with his later work.
Jones' resonant, deep, and mellow vocals in these numbers laid bare the sensitive lyrics of country music at its emotion-wracked best, unfettered by complicated musicianship or any hint of excessive studio gimmickry. Later, that changed just enough to be detected by Jones purists, but not so much to become objectionable.
Country fans will probably recall many of these tunes even though they haven't been available on CD before. A package like this makes it clear why Jones has 143 Top 40 hits, two Grammys, and membership in the Country Music Hall of Fame.
- KEN ROSENBAUM
Thank goodness for clueless television executives.
In the category of "Really Strange Ideas" someone in charge of a TV sitcom thought it would be clever to have Graham Parker write a theme song for his show. Of course it didn't work; Parker's music is much too intelligent and sly to provide the blunt-force lack of subtlety that is American television's calling card.
But the rejection the transplanted Englishman received for his submission did spur him to pen an 11-song release of tunes that serve as themes for his own imaginary shows. It's a cool concept that works wonderfully because you really don't need to know about the pretend back stories for the tunes to work. (Although Parker does helpfully include mini-summaries of the imaginary shows that go with each song just for kicks.)
Parker's music is like a soulful version of the Kinks with arrangements that never fail to swing, no matter whether they're anthemic tales like "Snowgun," Dylan-like word-fests such as "You're Not Where You Think You Are," or the sly rewrite of "It's My Party," which he morphs into "It's My Party But I Won't Cry."
As the quintessential artist whose career has had a third and fourth wind, Parker continues a fairly remarkable creative role he's been on since the early 2000s.
These character-driven musical studies, to be released Tuesday, are like short stories you can dance to.
- ROD LOCKWOOD
Another fine set of solid old-school blues, roots rock, and doo-wop numbers from the venerable Nighthawks, a group that has traveled the world and back in its nearly 30 years of touring.
This disc in particular is a mighty good staple for people who like standards.
It opens with the Nighthawks wielding their electric guitars on the Big Joe Turner classic "Chicken and the Hawk," then following that up with plenty of harmonica solos and a smooth-but-raucous sound on songs written or made popular by the likes of Muddy Waters, James Brown, Sonny Boy Williamson, Chuck Berry, Slim Harpo, and Little Walter.
The classic Waters-Little Walter hit, "Rollin' and Tumblin'," finishes out the set.
- TOM HENRY