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Blue Side of Lonesome: Country Crooners on BGO

Jakob Baekgaard By

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Crooning is an art that is inevitably associated with the big five: Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra. These are also singers that have become respected in jazz circles. However, there are many other great crooners that are worthy of attention, also if they can't be associated with jazz. The following three singers: Ray Price, Jim Reeves and Perry Como all enjoyed success as crooners and they all had a strong country connection. Price and Reeves are regular country legends while Como flirted seriously with country, as well as many other genres.

Ray Price
Another Bridge to Burn / Touch My Heart / Danny Boy / Take Me As I Am
BGO Records
2016

Ray Price is a true country legend. For many country fans, his recordings with the Cherokee Cowboys in the fifties live up to the gold standard of the genre. Price was always a great singer and when the times required it, he could change his sound. The four albums gathered in a nice BGO-package show his transition from a pop-influenced country sound to a full-fledged crooner.

The first two albums, Another Bridge to Burn and Touch My Heart, both from 1966, still find Price negotiating between the world of country and pop. The sound is lush with a full orchestra, but classic country instruments like steel guitar and fiddle are still present. The songwriters who contribute on these recordings are also solidly in the country mold, including such good writers as Willie Nelson, Hank Cochran, Don Gibson and Merle Haggard.

Danny Boy (1967) was a game changer for Price. The title track is a fine example of his ability to sculpt a song and the phrasing is impressive as he unfolds a deeply sentimental lyric. Price embraces this mood without making the song sappy. The pure cowboy romanticism of "Across the Wide Missouri" is close to kitsch, but again Price delivers it without a wink and with his big voice in great shape. His own composition, "Soft Rain," is a winner where he manages to get away with lines about angels crying, exploring subtle shades of texture with his voice while a slow walking bass gives the string-drenched piece a slightly jazzy flavor.

On Take Me As I Am (1968) Price fully embraced the role as a romantic crooner. Just look at the cover: Price in elegant tuxedo and not a Nudie Suit in sight. He swings convincingly on the brassy "Sittin' and Thinkin" while he also re-interprets "Night Life," the hit that Willie Nelson wrote for him. He even flirts with the Beatles and turns up the emotion on "Yesterday," a song eminently suited to Price's sincere sense of sentimental longing. Taken together, these four albums show a man that could both change with the times and influence them. Price's legacy as a crooner is greatly undervalued and this package of lush country pop offers a great opportunity to sample his art as a singer.

Jim Reeves
Yours Sincerely, Jim Reeves / Blue Side of Lonesome / A Touch of Sadness
BGO Records
2016

Ray Price was a superb singer, but he did not invent the concept of the country crooner. That honor has to go to Jim Reeves, or Gentleman Jim, as he was called. With his smooth voice and the lush instrumental setting of his music, he catered to a pop audience that did not like country music that sounded too much like country. Guitarist and producer, Chet Atkins, invented the new sound called the Nashville Sound that smoothed out the edges of country with strings and choir and removed or took the focus away from traditional country instruments like steel guitar and fiddle. With the new sound in place, Atkins needed a smooth singer and Reeves was the man for the job. He originally thought of himself as a tenor, but Atkins persuaded him to change the sound of his voice into the deep, rich sound of the baritone that became his trademark.

Atkins and Reeves were the perfect match and produced music that was much in demand. So much so, that even after Reeves' tragic death in a plane crash in 1964, posthumous releases kept turning up. Four of those releases are bundled in a package from BGO and it is a grab bag of music.

Yours Sincerely, Jim Reeves (1966) is a curious, but cozy mix of biographical narration and music, Reeves telling about his life and introducing some of the songs in his repertoire. Both Blue Side of Lonesome (1967) and A Touch of Sadness (1968) are filled with vintage Reeves ballads, including the wonderful "Blue Side of Lonesome." To top it off, there is also a live album, Jim Reeves on Stage (1968) that gives a welcome opportunity to sample how it was to attend one of the popular Jim Reeves concerts. Here is everything you would expect: hits, banter and light blue feeling, and Reeves acting as a singing jukebox. The downside is the inclusion of medleys, something that might be entertaining, but also a bit rushed and lightweight.

Listening to this music, it is striking that there really is a Jim Reeves sound. It was an immensely popular sound and understandably so. Reeves sang in a smooth way, but he also sang with feeling. Being blue seldom sounded so good.

Perry Como
I Think of You / In Nashville / Just Out of Reach / Today
BGO Records
2016

A country crooner like Jim Reeves took inspiration from the popular singers of the day, but the inspiration went both ways. For instance, the charming crooner, Perry Como, recorded albums with a clear Nashville-stamp, provided by producer, Chet Atkins. Two of Como's Atkins-albums are conveniently gathered in a BGO-package together with I Think of You from 1971 and a late offering, Today, from 1987.

Como had a great voice that became the epitome of casual elegance. However, Como's easygoing style was sometimes mistaken for lack of depth and it was not made better by the fact that he sometimes sang some truly dreadful songs and some of these songs actually became hits. Como was surprisingly frank about this. As he once said: "Every piece of crap I hated became a really big hit."

Far from everything Como recorded was "crap" and his singing voice is not only charming, but also alluringly elegant. His technique sounds effortless, but it is pure artistry and his album Como in Nashville (1965) is a study in the use of tempered texture. Como's reading of Willie Nelson's "Funny How Time Slips Away" is an example of understated beauty and on another Atkins-produced album, Just Out of Reach (1975), he gives a convincing interpretation of Lennon and McCartney's "Here, There and Everywhere." Hearing Como tackling quality material is a pleasure and one could wish that he would have avoided lighter fare, but the demand for easy, light hits was a part of his job.

Recording albums was only part of what Como did. His legacy will inevitably be connected with his mastery of the television format. He understood the medium and was a natural talent on the screen. People liked Como and it is easy to understand why. His art was not as deep as that of Frank Sinatra, but he surely knew how to deliver a song and while the four albums in this BGO-package are not consistent in quality, they nevertheless reveal a diverse portrait of a highly talented singer.

Adding to the attractiveness of the release is John O'Regan's biographical essay. O'Regan has provided excellent essays for all three releases and while they are short in detail about the actual albums, they reveal the full scope of the artists, embracing their entire career. While these three crooners are not in the spotlight as much as the famous five, they still deserve to be heard.

A Note: The Perry Como quote comes from Colin Escott's excellent collection of essays Roadkill on the Three-Chord Highway: Art and Trash in American Popular Music (Routledge, 2002). In it there is a essay about Como (Perry Como R.I.P.), but also a piece about Jim Reeves (Say "Yes" to Rugs).

Tracks and Personnel

Another Bridge to Burn / Touch My Heart / Danny Boy / Take Me As I Am

Tracks: CD1: Healing Hands Of Time; Another Bridge To Burn; Take These Chains From My Heart; Don't You Believe Her; I Want To Hear It From You; Don't Touch Me; (I'd Be) A Legend In My Time; I'd Fight The World; Go Away; Too Late; It Should Be Easier Now; Touch My Heart; There Goes My Everything; It's Only Love; I Lie A Lot; You Took My Happy Away; Swinging Doors; A Way To Survive; The Same Two Lips; Enough To Lie; Am I That Easy To Forget; Just For The Record. CD2: Danny Boy; Greensleeves; Across The Wide Missouri; Soft Rain; Pretend; Spanish Eyes; What's Come Over My Baby; Crazy; Born To Lose; Vaya Con Dios; Take Me As I Am (Or Let Me Go); Don't You Believe Her; Sittin' And Thinkin'; I'm Still Not Over You; I Can't Help It (If I'm Still In Love With You); Walk Through This World With Me; Night Life; My Baby's Gone; Just Out Of Reach; Yesterday; In The Summer Of My Life.

Personnel: Ray Price: vocal + various session musicians.

Yours Sincerely, Jim Reeves / Blue Side of Lonesome / A Touch of Sadness

Tracks: CD1: He'll Have To Go; Blue Yodel No. 5; Newscast Of 1948; My Mary; When Did You Leave Heaven; Mexican Joe; Back Up And Push; Yonder Comes A Sucker; The Wreck Of The Number Nine; Scarlet Ribbons; The Fool's Paradise; Billy Bayou; Am I Losing You; I Grew Up; He'll Have To Go; Blue Side Of Lonesome; I Catch Myself Crying; Trying To Forget; I Know One; Seabreeze; I Won't Come In While He's There; Blue Without My Baby; Teardrops On The Rocks; Crying Is My Favorite Mood; Deep Dark Water. CD2: Where Do I Go To Throw A Picture Away; You Kept Me Awake Last Night; I'm Crying Again; Oh, How I Miss You Tonight; Lonesome Waltz; Your Wedding; When You Are Gone; Missing You; Honey, Won't You Please Come Home; In A Mansion Stands My Love; I'm Glad You're Better; Medley: Mexican Joe/Yonder Comes A Sucker ; Medley: Dialogue/Four Walls/I Missed Me/Tennessee Waltz/I Really Don't Want To Know/He'll Have To Go; Medley Dialogue/ Walking The Floor Over You/Dialogue/There Stands The Glass/Dialogue/One By One/Dialogue/Guess Things Happen That Way/Dialogue/I Want To Be With You Always; Dialogue/ Wildwood Flower; Dialogue/The Blizzard; Dialogue/Your Old Love Letters; Dialogue/Am I Losing You; Dialogue/Bimbo; Dialogue/Stand At Your Window; Dialogue/Danny Boy/ Dialogue.

Personnel: Jim Reeves: vocal + various session musicians.

I Think of You / In Nashville / Just Out of Reach / Today

Tracks: CD1: Me And You And A Dog Named Boo; If; Yesterday I Heard The Rain; Dream Baby (How Long Must I Dream); Where Do I Begin; I Think Of You; Someone Who Cares; For All We Know; Put Your Hand In The Hand; My Days Of Loving You; Bridge Over Troubled Water; Where Does A Little Tear Come From; Funny How Time Slips Away; Here Comes My Baby; Sweet Adorable You; I Really Don't Want To Know; That Ain't All; Dream On Little Dreamer; Stand Beside Me; A Hatchet, A Hammer, A Bucket Of Nails; Gringo's Guitar; My Own Peculiar Way; Give Myself A Party. CD2: Let's Do It Again; Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye; Here, There And Everywhere; Let It Be Love; The Grass Keeps Right On Growin'; Just Out Of Reach; Let Me Call You Baby Tonight; Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I'll Ever Do Again); Make Love To Life; Love Put A Song In My Heart; Making Love To You; Sing Along With Me; Tonight I Celebrate My Love For You; Butterfly (I'll Set You Free); Bless The Beasts And The Children; That's What Friends Are For; The Wind Beneath My Wings; I'm Dreaming Of Hawaii; You're Nearer; My Heart Stood Still; Do You Remember Me; The Best Of Times.

Personnel: Perry Como + various session musicians.

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