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Review: The Buckaroos, “Play Buck and Merle” and Don Rich, “That Fiddlin’ Man”

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Buckaroos Play Buck and Merle“Who’s going to want to listen to the band with Don [Rich] playing the melody line to the song, when you could hear Buck [Owens] doing the real deal?” queried drummer Willie Cantu of The Buckaroos when called upon to record 1965’s all-instrumental The Buck Owens Song Book.  Capitol Records surely thought there would be an audience for the LP, proclaiming on its back cover that “you too can sing Buck’s country-western songs to the rousing, rhythmic playing of his buddy Don Rich and The Buckaroos!”  The original album has been out of print for many years now, but Omnivore Recordings is now giving you the chance to immerse yourself in the Bakersfield Sound.  The Buck Owens Song Book has been paired with The Buckaroos’ The Songs of Merle Haggard (1971) as The Buckaroos Play Buck & Merle (OVCD-65).  Both Play Buck & Merle and the new expanded reissue of Buckaroo Don Rich’s That Fiddlin’ Man (OVCD-66) continue the Omnivore label’s celebration of Bakersfield, California’s favorite sons (and favorite songs).

Even sans lyrics, one gets the gist of Buck Owens’ spirited music thanks to the Buckaroos’ fine and faithful playing on The Buck Owens Song Book.  Don Rich (fiddle/guitar) was joined by Doyle Holly (guitar), Tom Brumley (steel guitar), Bob Morris (bass) and Willie Cantu (drums) for the set of twelve Owens classics.  Many of Owens’ most beloved favorites were reprised by the band, including the breezy “Act Naturally” and rollicking “I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail.”  The performances are alternately rousing and reflective, with the group’s distinctively rootsy, down-home sound.  These songs weren’t recorded in a jazz style, so there’s little improvisation and few individual showcases.  But there’s plenty of delightful interplay from a tight and twangy group whose members were clearly attuned to one another.  Rich, of course, stands out, as does Tom Brumley, whose distinctive “Brumley Touch” on the steel guitar adds dimension to tracks including the wistful “Together Again.”  The quintessential country weepers like “Second Fiddle” (“Will there never come a day/When I won’t have to play the part/Of second fiddle in your heart?”) and “Don’t Let Her Know” (“Laugh, dance and sing, so she won’t notice/The hurt that’s still burning deep inside/And don’t let her see the way I tremble/Don’t let her know how much I cried”) still resonate in the Buckaroos’ sympathetic hands.

Roughly six years later, a new group of Buckaroos – still under the direction of Don Rich – recorded The Songs of Merle Haggard, recognizing the former Buckaroo who actually is said to have given the group its name.  For this LP, Rich was joined by his bandmates Jim Shaw (piano/organ/harmonica/Jew’s harp), Doyle Curtsinger (bass/mandolin), Ronnie Jackson (banjo/rhythm guitar) and Jerry Wiggins (drums/percussion) on a selection from Hag’s great songbook.  There are notable differences between the two tribute albums, and not just because of the new personnel or Haggard’s rather more edgy material.  The Buckaroos employ vocals on The Songs of Merle Haggard, usually only on the choruses, and in a tasteful harmony style far-removed from the outlaw great’s own style.

Jim Shaw’s organ adds a new color to the Haggard album, but the Buckaroos’ sound is still filled with traditional Bakersfield twang led by Rich’s varied guitar tones.  Rich can be aggressive or romantic, leading sadly romantic songs like “Silver Wings” (“Silver wings shining in the sunlight/Roaring engines headed somewhere in flight/They’re taking you away and leaving me lonely/Silver wings slowly fading out of sight”) as well as politically incendiary ones like “The Fightin’ Side of Me” (with its famous “If you don’t love it, leave it” riposte) and the oft-misunderstood “Okie from Muskogee.”  Ronnie Jackson gets to flex his banjo muscles on the rip-roaring, purely instrumental “Legend of Bonnie and Clyde,” and the sound from the band and pianist Shaw is altogether lovely on the evocative memory play “Hungry Eyes.”  One of Haggard’s favorite themes, drinking, is represented with “Swinging Doors,” and The Buckaroos vividly bring its barroom setting to life with their rendition.

The original liner notes for both albums are reprinted in Omnivore’s new release, along with full lyrics for both albums.  (The original Haggard LP didn’t contain printed lyrics, so these are a very welcome extra.)  The package, nicely designed by Greg Allen with a tip of the hat to the original Buck Owens Song Book style, also includes an illuminating Q&A session with Buckaroos Cantu, Curtsinger and Shaw.  (The latter two Buckaroos still perform every Friday and Saturday evening at Owens’ Crystal Palace in Bakersfield!)

After the jump, we’re taking a look at That Fiddlin’ Man from the late, great Don Rich! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

July 23, 2013 at 08:07

Release Round-Up: Week of July 23

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Otis Redding - Stax-Volt OpenOtis Redding, The Complete Stax/Volt Singles (Shout! Factory)

A triple-disc set featuring every one of Otis’ single sides in mono – a striking statement on a short but iconic soul career. (Amazon U.S.)

The Aeroplane Flies HighSmashing Pumpkins, The Aeroplane Flies High: Deluxe Edition (Virgin/UMe)

The Pumpkins’ 1996 box set of Mellon Collie-era singles is massively expanded, with bonus tracks on each of the five original discs and an unreleased live CD and DVD.

CD box: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
LP box: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Dionne - Just Being MyselfDionne Warwick, second wave of expanded reissues (Rhino/WEA Japan)

This week, 11 Dionne Warwick titles come out on CD in Japan; three of these titles, released between 1969 and 1977, are making their CD debuts, and nearly all of the titles feature bonus tracks! (The order links are in the post linked above.)

Ella BBCElla Fitzgerald, The Best of the BBC Vaults (Universal)

This CD/DVD set, released as an import in 2010, features four complete shows from 1965 to 1977, newly unearthed and released to video, and a disc of audio highlights from the same sets. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Buckaroos Play Buck and MerleThe Buckaroos, The Buckaroos Play Buck and Merle / Don Rich and The Buckaroos, That Fiddlin’ Man (Omnivore)

It’s back to Bakersfield for Omnivore with two new sets featuring Buck Owens’ iconic band: Play Buck and Merle collects The Buck Owens Songbook (1965) and The Songs of Merle Haggard (1971) on one disc, while That Fiddlin’ Man (1971) appears on CD for the first time.

Play Buck and Merle: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
That Fiddlin’ Man: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

The Idolmaker OSTThe Idolmaker: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Varese Sarabande)

The cult classic film, directed by Taylor Hackford and featuring original songs written by Jeff Barry, sees its soundtrack released on CD for the first time. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

They’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail: Don Rich and The Buckaroos Return From Omnivore

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Don Rich - That Fiddlin' ManOmnivore Recordings is going back to Bakersfield. Building on the success of such projects as Honky Tonk Man: Buck Sings Country Classics, Don Rich Sings George Jones, Buck Owens Live at the White House, Buck Sings Eagles, and (this author’s personal favorite!) the Buck Owens Coloring Book and Flexi Disc, Omnivore is mining the rich, rough-and-tumble country-and-western legacy of that California town for two new releases due on July 23.

Buck Owens’ iconic band The Buckaroos are celebrated with The Buckaroos Play Buck and Merle, in which they pay tribute to the two Bakersfield heroes they knew so well, Messrs. Owens and Haggard. This disc brings together the band’s The Buck Owens Songbook (1965) and The Songs of Merle Haggard (1971) on one CD. It will be joined by Don Rich and the Buckaroos’ 1971 album That Fiddlin’ Man in its very first ever appearance on compact disc.

Buck Owens’ guitarist and all-around right-hand man Don Rich often made room in the set for one of his many specialties: the fiddle. On tunes like “Orange Blossom Special,” Rich proved his virtuosity on the instrument, and in 1971, Capitol Records collected ten fiddlin’ tracks from the Buckaroos’ catalogue as That Fiddlin’ Man. Though a few tracks have appeared on CD before, Omnivore is reissuing the album in its original sequence for the very first time, complete with the groovy psychedelic cover artwork! In the spirit of the original release, the label has added another ten tracks of The Buckaroos, Don Rich, and his fiddle, making for a definitive survey of his style. In total, the new compact disc presents 20 tracks drawn from 13 different albums recorded between 1963 and 1970. The expanded edition of That Fiddlin’ Man includes a full-color booklet with new liner notes, photos and information on the source of each track. It should prove a fine companion to Don Rich Sings George Jones, the recently-excavated solo album that spotlights his underrated work as a vocalist. Rich’s life ended too soon when he perished in a motorcycle accident in 1974 at 32 years of age, but his music has proven in the timeless tradition of truly classic country.

Hit the jump to sing along with The Buckaroos!

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

May 17, 2013 at 09:37