The first song on the 1969 volume of Bear Family's Dim Lights, Thick Smoke and Hillbilly Music is "Kay," a song that explicitly references the ongoing conflict in Vietnam, while the second, Buck Owens' "Who's Gonna Mow Your Grass?," splits the difference between a harpsichord and a fuzz guitar. In other words, the '60s in all their paisley splendor had arrived to the mainstream of country music but the upheaval is apparent in other places, yet in ways that aren't quite so splashy. Bobby Bare's mournful, symphonic cheating anthem "(Margie's At) The Lincoln Park Inn," is a Tom T. Hall tune, filled with telling details that capture not just a place, but a time. Hall's particular gift is naturally apparent on his own hit "Homecoming, " -- an oddly melancholy tale of an oblivious, absent country singer visiting his old, ailing father -- but such modern narratives are also evident on Roger Miller's version of Kris Kristofferson's "Me and Bobby McGee" and Johnny Cash's riotous take on Shel Silverstein's "A Boy Named Sue." These are balanced by hard honky tonk via Jerry Lee Lewis, Bare's jingoistic "God Bless America Again," Charlie Rich's soulful "Life's Little Ups and Downs," Glen Campbell's achingly symphonic country-pop, Merle Haggard's dogged, determined Bakersfield country, and the singles of Kenny Rogers & the First Edition, which attempt to polish and shoehorn all these trends into something pop and palatable. Looking back just a few years prior, it'd be hard to believe that country music would encompass so many sounds and sensibilities and that's why Dim Lights 1969 is such a thrilling compilation: the adventure is palpable in nearly every track.
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