Buck Owens

Honky Tonk Man: Buck Sings Country Classics

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Arriving less than a year after the gigantic Bear Family set covering Buck Owens' complete Capitol recordings of 1969-1975, Omnivore's 2013 collection Honky Tonk Man: Buck Sings Country Classics offers something unavailable and unexpected from the same period: a collection of 18 classic country covers Buck & the Buckaroos cut for Hee Haw during its heyday in the early '70s. These were recorded for use in the show, but the idea was that Buck would lay down a scratch vocal and then sing live during the show, so these specific versions, containing rough vocals from Owens, have never been heard before. "Rough" is a bit of a misleading description, actually, as it suggests that Buck tossed off these vocals, which is hardly the case. Owens was at his peak as a professional entertainer, as were the Buckaroos, so they played these songs with ease and no small sense of panache. Sometimes, this professionalism can read as slickness -- there is just a glimpse of show biz gloss to "I Washed My Hands in Muddy Water" and "My Bucket's Got a Whole in It" -- but part of the appeal of this collection is hearing how Buck & the Buckaroos can kick out such entertaining versions of well-known songs with little effort. Plus, they always sound like themselves: there may be no great reinterpretation of these largely shopworn songs, but the band doesn't ape the original recordings, either. They simply lay back and cut into a bunch of great standards (Johnny Russell's "Rednecks, White Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer" qualifies as one of the rare songs that is lost to time, but it's fun to hear here) and it's tremendous fun to listen to the band play.

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