Various Artists

Sick, Sober & Sorry: Great Country Hits of the 1950s

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While the annotation could be a bit better, and there's a sense of a whole lotta tracks getting poured into a bucket of convenience, there's no arguing that this three-CD 84-song set of early-'50s country hits offers a whole lotta fine music. Each of the three discs covers a specific year, with 28 songs apiece offered from 1951, 1952, and 1953. There are many giants of early country music represented here, including Lefty Frizzell, Hank Snow, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Hank Williams, Eddy Arnold, Les Paul & Mary Ford, Ray Price, Webb Pierce, Hank Thompson, Kitty Wells, Slim Whitman, Marty Robbins, Faron Young, Sonny James, and Jim Reeves. Too, some of the specific songs are revered country classics, like Ford's "The Shot Gun Boogie," Williams' "Cold, Cold Heart," Wells' "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels," Hank Thompson's "Wild Side of Life," Tex Ritter's "High Noon," the Davis Sisters' "I Forgot More Than You'll Ever Know," Darrell Glenn's "Crying in the Chapel," and Snow's "(Now and Then There's) A Fool Such As I" (the last two of which were later covered for pop hits by Elvis Presley). What really makes this a better than average package, however, is the sheer diversity of material on hand, from near-bluegrass and country boogie to primordial honky tonk, hillbilly, and country-pop balladeering. The wealth of material also makes room for plenty of noteworthy cuts that have fallen into relative obscurity, like Arkie Shibley's "Hot Rod Race" (a country boogie that pointed toward rockabilly), Snow's Latin-tinged "The Rhumba Boogie," Moon Mullican's "Cherokee Boogie," Zeb Turner's silly "Chew Tobacco Rag" (which sounds like it just might have been an influence on early Bill Haley), the Carlisles' almost snide "Too Old to Cut the Mustard," the Western swing of Goldie Hill's "I Let the Stars Get in My Eyes," Red Foley's bluesy "Midnight," and the ebullient proto-pop/rock of Bonnie Lou's "Seven Lonely Days." Maybe it's not the most comfortable fit for those trying to assemble a massive country collection without much overlap between albums, but if you just want a bushel of quality early-'50s country at one go, it's a good deal.

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