Sign up for our mailing list Real artists creating records on their own terms

Sign up for our mailing list


Wednesday, April 25th, 2007 Review of Porter Wagoner One of the major problems with modern country revolves around the fact that--save George Jones, Merle Haggard, and Loretta Lynn--almost all the characters who poured the foundation for post-World War II hillbilly culture are dead or no longer recording. Which brings us to the miracle of Porter Wagoner's new album, Wagonmaster, produced by Marty Stuart. Wagoner, who kept his corn-yellow pompadour piled high, wide, and handsome, was as wild as Johnny Cash in his prime, but hid most of his sins behind his smooth, pitch-man persona. You can hear it in the music all along the way, though, particularly in the weird "Rubber Room" era of the '60s and '70s. Now nearly 80, Wagoner--the man who brought James Brown to the Grand Ole Opry--is still as theatrical and out-there as ever, even if his once-strong and well-modulated baritone has crumbled to a husk. Stuart, who loved Porter's old syndicated TV show, frames the album with an opening and close that recalls those halcyon days, a Mac Magaha-style fiddle dancing behind it all. In between, the thin man from West Plains, Missouri, moves through a riveting collection of Southern Gothic numbers, starting with "Be a Little Quieter," in which a man is so haunted by memories of his lover that he imagines her walking the halls, taking a bath, ratting the pots and pans. But that's kids' stuff compared to "Committed to Parkview," which Cash sent to Wagoner nearly 25 years ago on learning they'd both spent time in the Nashville mental hospital/drug treatment center. Wagoner opens his spoken-word introduction as if he's playing for laughs, but quickly turns poignant, and the bloodletting hardly lets up: Running through the album are a couple of Bible beaters ("Brother Harold Dee," "Satan's River"), a reprise of "My Many Hurried Southern Trips" (a song about a bus driver's slice-of-life that Wagoner wrote with former singing partner Dolly Parton), and an affecting word portrait of a man from Wagoner's childhood ("Albert Erving") who was so isolated and loveless that he conjured an imaginary companion. Wagoner takes time for a quickie instrumental tribute to his old banjo sidekick Buck Trent, but he's too mired in pathos to highlight the humor in Shawn Camp's "Hotwired." Yet who's to quibble? Much of this is wonderfully creepy ("The Late Love of Mine") and underscored with the kind of weepy pedal steel that fell out of favor when Nashville set its sights on crossover gold. Stuart, his own generation's premier hillbilly throwback, deserves kudos for getting this to the marketplace. And Wagoner, virtually forgotten after Dolly moved on, is to be revered for hanging in there when so many rhinestoned rednecks who put the "path" in Music City's patented brand of pathology chose to check out. --Alanna Nash

Facebook | Twitter | Google Plus

Browse by Artist

1514All Artists 95Tom Waits 61Mavis Staples 52Neko Case 51Lost In The Trees 50Sean Rowe 48Dr. Dog 41Jolie Holland
40Bettye LaVette 38The Milk Carton Kids 37Man Man 33Tim Fite 33DeVotchKa 31Islands 31Grinderman 30Tinariwen 27Galactic 27Wilco 27Son Little 24Michael Franti and Spe... 22Bob Mould 22William Elliott Whitmo... 22Saintseneca 21Nick Cave & The Bad Se... 21The Frames 20Joe Henry 19Booker T. Jones 19Sage Francis 18Doe Paoro 17John K. Samson 17Yann Tiersen 16Ramblin Jack Elliott 16Jason Lytle 15Christopher Paul Stell... 14Glen Hansard 13Daniel Lanois 13Billy Bragg 13Andy Shauf 12Xavier Rudd 12Xenia Rubinos 12Peter Silberman 11The Weakerthans 11Lyrics Born 11Rain Machine 11Mose Allison 11Roky Erickson 11The Antlers 11Calexico 11Prism Tats 10The Swell Season 10The Melodic 10Delicate Steve 9Marianne Faithfull 9N.A.S.A. 9Deafheaven 9So Much Light 9Cameron Avery 8Solillaquists of Sound 8Greg Graffin 8Cadence Weapon 8The Coup 7Elliott Smith 7Eddie Izzard 7Dead Man's Bones 7Alec Ounsworth 7Beth Orton 7Kelly Hogan 7Title Fight 7Jade Jackson 7Los Angeles Police Dep... 6A Girl Called Eddy 6Busdriver 6Os Mutantes 6Kate Bush 6Broken Twin 6The Drums 5One Day As A Lion 5The Field 5Keaton Henson 5Beat Connection 5Japandroids 5The Dream Syndicate 4Ersi Arvizu 4Marketa Irglova 4Pops Staples 3Danny Cohen 3Sierra Leones Refugee... 3Petra Haden 3Cass McCombs 3Girlpool 3Curtis Harding 3Ben Harper and Charlie... 2Various Artists: RANGO 2Jeff Tweedy 1Tricky 1Joe Strummer And The M... 1Youth Group 1Blackalicious 1Antibalas 1Porter Wagoner 1Various Artists: ROGUE... 1The Locust 1Rogue's Gallery 1Kronos Quartet with Br... 1Simian Mobile Disco 1case/lang/veirs 1Merle Haggard 1Un Blonde 1Rafiq Bhatia
See Full List+