Webb Pierce

In the Jailhouse Now [Columbia]

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Willie Nelson had to try pretty hard to follow up his brilliant duet album with Ray Price, and certainly came up with a winning, and quite different, combination by teaming up with Webb Pierce. Unless the idea of a fellow in a tall cowboy hat is repulsive, the photography on this album is worth the purchase price alone. Pierce looks the part, talks the talk, and walks the walk of a no-nonsense country singer, and one who -- in the manner of Hank Thompson -- seems obsessed with drinking songs. But these are songs that touch on the misery of alcoholism as well as barroom revelry. "There Stands the Glass," the opening track on this album, is one of the best country songs about booze ever written, and if that judgment was made by actually listening to every single one of them it would keep somebody busy a long time, and probably lead them to get drunk more than once in the process. The listener will want to hear a few more tracks when this album ends, not only because the playing time is a bit ungenerous but because the performances are so much fun. "In the Jailhouse Now" simply rocks and rolls, Pierce's unmannered delivery meshing perfectly with Nelson's jazzy vocal style. At first listen, the pairing of these vocalists might seem a bit awkward, as Pierce is kind of a belter who hits the rhythm right on the head, unlike Nelson, who phrases behind the beat in the manner of jazz master Lester Young. Emotion is where the two really come together; they mean every word they say, and they put the lyrics across with the sentimental and meaningful spirit that is the essence of all great country & western. Pierce is not an artist who Nelson had much of a relationship with as a songwriter, so this record is not dominated by Nelson songs, focusing more on classics from the Pierce repertoire. Fine picking all around from a whole studio full of great musicians hardly hurts either. The players are a mixture of Nelson sidemen, top-rank Nashville session men, and pianists Leon Russell and Richard Manuel, both legendary rock players.

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