Various Artists – Greatest Country Love Songs (Shanachie)
You know the old joke about when you play a country song backwards you’ll get all of your stuff back? Well, for all of those kinds of jokes about the genre, there are some truly great songs about relationships good or bad. For the most part, love songs in country music are the most honest and from every day life. They’re not based in fantasy land and it’s with that premise that Shanachie Records decided to gather a group of singers to cover some of the best love songs ever made. The label had a couple of their new country division’s artists sing here (Tammy Cochran and two of the genre’s best traditional singers in Daryle Singletary and Gene Watson). The label also commissioned some of the best pure country vocalists from the new-traditionalist 1980’s and boom-time 1990’s inPam Tillis, Ken Mellons, Lorrie Morgan, Aaron Tippin, Tracy Byrd and Joe Diffie. Throw in a couple tracks from legends George Jones and Mel Tillis and you have the makings of what could and should be a very decent album. But is it? Read on, friends, read on.
Darryl Worley is first out of the gate with his rendition of Jones’ “Tennessee Whiskey.” It’s a song that, in fine country form, compares the love of a woman to various types of alcohol. Worley has always had a voice that sounded best on the more traditional stuff and he’s perhaps the most ‘current’ and ‘radio friendly’ of the artists on this compilation so it makes sense to make his song first off the bat. Mellons never got a fair shake with country radio. He was simply ‘too country’ for most of the programmers. “Daydreams About Night Things,” originally recorded by Ronnie Milsap, isn’t the song I’d have picked for Ken’s traditional baritone but he does a nice enough job with the song. “Today I Started Loving You Again“ is such a great Merle Haggard song that it’s hard to see it being recorded by anyone else but Tracy Byrd does well with it. His deep, honeybrowne baritone suits the song and Greg Cole‘s production fits the whole mood of a classic. “That’s Where I Want To Take Our Love” is a brilliant song that certainly fits the tome of the collection but from the limited research I’ve done, it’s an all-new song that Daryle Singletary sings as if it were a treasured but long lost classic.
“Wound You Lay With Me (In A Field Of Stone)” is one of the more ‘straight’ David Allen Coe songs ever written. Tanya Tucker took the song to the top of the charts and it’s interesting to hear a oft-recorded classic sung by Aaron Tippin. The production is straight down the middle (as most of these songs are) and is often reverential to the source material. Gene Watson is one of my favorite singers. I only started to listen to his stuff six years ago but I’ve become a fan of the man with the golden country pipes and his duet, “Together Again,” with Rhonda Vincent just might be the highlight of this album. Not much is changed from the original Buck Owens track but then again when two vocalists of Watson and Vincent’s stature are singing, it’s best not to mess with perfection. As much as I wanted to hate Pam Tillis’ modernized version of Johnny Cash‘s version of “Ring of Fire” I can’t. It’s a song that one could see country radio playing. Pam does a fine job seducing the ear with her charismatic vocal performance.
Tammy Cochran takes Kris Kristofferson‘s “Help Me Make It Through The Night” and makes it her own. While not changed much from the original recordings of the classic, Tammy has strong vocals make the song one of the better versions I’ve heard of the song. George Jones may be an old man now but he’s still the best country singer alive. his voice isn’t as good as it once was but he still knocks “Talk Back Tremblin’ Lips” out of the park. For as much as Sammy Kershaw was compared to ole George, I think Joe Diffie is a much better vocalist who deserved to be in the same conversation (even if he sang ditties more often than not). Joe’s version of Ray Price‘s “For The Good Times”is stellar if not complimentary. I actually here some tremolo in the vocal that reminds me of Ray and even Raul Malo.
While “The Greatest Country Love Songs” is missing quite a few of the ‘greatest country love songs,’ they have left open the door for more of country’s ‘free agents’ (or “independent”) veterans to record future installments of the ‘greatest country love songs.’ What’s included here is an entertaining collection of love songs that don’t re-invent the wheel, these artists just give up some clear reverence for the source material. All of these songs were recorded just for this record which actually is a good thing for it means they’re not ‘licensed’ tracks from other labels. It also means that you can only get these songs here (save for Watson’s track as it’s on his Shanachie album as well).