Howard Crockett wrote "Honky Tonk Man," one of the all-time great country songs of the 20th century, and he also penned several other hit singles recorded by Johnny Horton, including "Whispering Pines," "All Grown Up," and "Ole Slew Foot." Crockett wasn't merely a writer -- he also had a performing career, one that he pursued for almost two decades, eking out a minor country hit in 1973 with "Last Will and Testimony (Of a Drinking Man)." But Bear Family's 2007's set Out of Bounds -- the first CD ever assembled on this singer -- doesn't cover the entirety of his recordings; it focuses just on those first six years, when he was writing songs either for Horton or in the style of Horton. This means it's heavy on historical tunes -- "The Great Titanic," "Johnny Reb," etc. -- but Crockett also traded upon how his baritone could be a dead ringer for Johnny Cash, mimicking the Tennessee Two's signature rhythm on "Tell Me Why" and even getting how Cash turned pop on the frivolous "I Love This Girl." As Crockett could easily sound like two of the bigger country stars of the '50s and '60s, it would have seemed like he could have gotten further on the charts than he did, but this similarity was an Achilles' heel for him -- he could sound so much like Horton or Cash that he had a hard time carving out his own identity, which is somewhat ironic, as Horton had hits with songs penned by Crockett. Here, it's possible to appreciate Crockett's versatility as a singer and his strength as a writer and place him into historical perspective, although this very lengthy disc -- at 36 tracks, it's hard to consume in one sitting -- does make more of a case for Crockett being a valued behind-the-scenes talent instead of an unsung recording artist who never got the right break.
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