Hoooo-weee! Lookee here, an ol’-fashioned, down-home country-type record review. At just a hair over half an hour, it’s a sawdust-floored, broken-bottle honky-tonk drunk set that sounds like it could have been forty years older.
Where to begin? First, I dig the movie. It’s appropriately silly but doesn’t ridicule its subjects, like the early seasons of the show rather than kind of stupid like the later ones. The casting is pretty much spot-on, with Jim Varney in the critical role of Jed bringing the facial expressions, inflection, and demeanor of Buddy Ebsen to life brilliantly. But we’re here to talk about the soundtrack.
The artists—Steve Earle, Lorrie Morgan, The Oak Ridge Boys, Aaron Tippin, Doug Supernaw, Ricky Van Shelton, Joe Diffie, Joe Walsh, Jim Varney and Ricky Skaggs, The Texas Tornados, Jerry Scoggins with Sam Bush and Bela Fleck, Sammy Kershaw, and Dolly Parton—are the cream of the neo-traditionalists of the early 90s and a handful of veterans. If they put on a festival with that line-up, I’d be there. Then there are the songwriters: Lefty Frizzell, Buck Owens (twice), Mel Tillis and Webb Pierce, Carl Perkins, Dolly herself, Paul Henning, Hank Snow, Freddy Fender, J.P. Richardson (the Big Bopper), and the king of the honky-tonks, Hank Williams.
Alright, enough teasing. What are the songs? Diffie brings the Possum classic “White Lightnin’”, complete with a coda that makes it more fun than ever. The Oaks’ “I Ain’t Never” is almost slick in this set but they sound great as always. Morgan does the first Buck song here, “Cryin’ Time”, and you can smell the stale cigarette smoke hanging over the pool tables. Kershaw’s take on “I’m Movin’ On” rolls on nicely and following “Cryin’ Time” it makes a great “he’s gone/yes, I am” moment.
Tippin sings “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and earns the comparisons he used to get to Hank. It’s still one of the saddest, most beautiful country songs ever written. Then there’s the fiery double shot of Varney and Skaggs’ “Hot Rod Lincoln” and Walsh and Earle’s “Honey Don’t”. Are they country? If they are, then so is half of Skynyrd’s catalog, a third of ZZ Top’s, and “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”. If they aren’t, then why do country fans love them? Better yet, who cares? Sometimes country rocks, sometimes rock swings, and sometimes reggae has the blues. Drop the classifications, drop the needle, and drop your cares at the edge of the dance floor. Supernaw has the second Buck number, “Together Again”, and it’s the answer to the heartbreak pairing from earlier. Funny how the reunion sounds so bittersweet. Then our happy couple seems to lift their spirits as Van Shelton tells us “If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got the Time.” This song was selling beer before most of these artists were born. An absolute gem is Freddy Fender revisiting his hit “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” as almost a doo-wop. It’s a great song and his voice is better than ever. Dolly’s own “If You Ain’t Got Love” is an encouraging, upbeat number that shows again that she helped invent contemporary country. The album closes with a New Grass revival of “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” giving Bela Fleck a marquee opportunity to play the song that inspired his career. It’s bluegrass without being too bluegrass, for people who don’t like bluegrass.
More fun than a pickup full of baby pigs. Grab this record, a washtub of iced RC Co-Colas, and a date. Call in tomorrow.