1975 marked the return to the recording scene for Steve Young. Honky Tonk Man, released on Wisconsin's tiny Mountain Railroad Records, was his first recording since Seven Bridges Road in 1971 (which had been reissued in 1973). This is the most straight-up country record Young ever cut. He handles both lead and rhythm guitar chores with a band of fine session players, including Kamau Gravatt, who did double duty with Weather Report. Other than redos of Utah Phillips' "Rock, Salt & Nails" and his own "White Trash Song," Young sticks somewhat close to the canon of classic country with a few surprises -- at least on side one; side two is mostly his own material. The deep blues read of Bob Wills' "Brain Cloudy Blues" is radical and as far from Western swing as it gets, but it also showcases Wills' own roots in the blues. The title cut is a version of the Johnny Horton classic with swinging fiddles by Craig Ruble and Cal Hand's warbling pedal steel kept in line by Bill Petersen's electric bass. Young's vocal is a reedy baritone that gets to the heart of matter -- that this is a drinking playboy's anthem. Side one eclipses with a high, lonesome take on Hank Williams' "Ramblin' Man" that is as cur-dog low as it is restless and a cover of Robbie Robertson's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." Young's version is pastoral and slow; it's as mournful as a funeral song and comes across as a folk elegy for the Deep South at the end of the Civil War. Side two is marked by Young's own stunner, "We've Been Together on This Earth Before," "Vision of a Child," and two live cuts done with Doc Watson of the traditional "Sally Goodin'" and the spooky country of "Travelin' Kind." Like Seven Bridges Road, Honky Tonk Man is a fine outing from Young, though it is hampered a bit by somewhat shoddy recording. But the material and his performance of it are top-notch.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek