Ray Price / Porter Wagoner

Master of the Art/Viva

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In the late '70s, veteran record producer Snuff Garrett launched his own record label, Viva Records, focusing on country music, and along with a handful of promising young artists, he brought two Nashville legends on board to record new material. Ray Price's Master of the Art and Porter Wagoner's Viva were both released in 1983, and make their CD debut on this two-fer reissue from Morello Records. Master of the Art finds Price focusing on midtempo numbers, most involving love, liquor, or both, and backed with arrangements that split the difference between countrypolitan and adult contemporary music of the era; Price is in fine voice, and sounds firmly committed to the material, but the tone of the album might make some fans wish Price had thrown in a couple of honky tonk numbers for the sake of variety. The Kingston Trio's "Scotch and Soda" turns out to be a fine choice for a cover, however, and "Willie, Write Me a Song" has a witty undertow, given Price's longtime friendship with Willie Nelson. Wagoner's album is a different kettle of fish; sounding relaxed but lively, Viva tosses together updated cowboy ballads ("This Cowboy Hat"), honky tonk songs of villains on the run ("Heaven, Hell or Macon"), slow weepers ("His and Hers"), drinking tunes ("Living in the Shadows"), and a cheating song that isn't really a cheating song ("That Was Then, This Is Now"). Wagoner's singing is confident throughout, and he seems to be having a ball, and if Garrett's production is polished, Wagoner gives this material a solid dose of country soul. Full-bodied and from the heart, Viva is a casually fine album that deserves a wider audience, and it's the gem on this well-packaged and cleanly mastered reissue.

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