Buddy Emmons

Steel Guitar

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The versatility of Buddy Emmons would never be questioned. Given the opportunity to do whatever he wanted on an album in a period when many listeners were waiting, their tongues hanging out, for the next bold innovation in country-flavored instrumental music, he convened two completely different groups to back him up. With one, he established his abilities to play traditional country and Western swing material as if he was regaining the heavyweight championship; each of his solos on these pieces is delivered with that type of combination of punches, and it is a good thing he hired a bona fide genius, guitarist Leon Rhodes, to play with him on these tracks since there are few other players who would be able to follow him up. If this album consisted totally of pieces such as the wonderful "Medley" of steel guitar favorites or the work-up of "Orange Blossom Special" on which Emmons is endlessly inventive, then it would receive the highest rating. On the second side there is the equivalent of rocks in bags of potatoes, however, a band who goes for a somewhat more contemporary feel, coming across like some kind of wedding band in the process. Sure, this is the type of wedding band where some of the music types in attendance would be commenting on how good the pedal steel player is, and the drumming of Kenny Malone is crisp-sounding and effective. Something about this music just grates, however, and yes, there are wedding bands who play "Nothing Is Delivered" by Bob Dylan, and better than on this record to boot. Still, everything described up until now was still not quite enough for the maestro, who chose to bring the album to an unforgettable conclusion by overdubbing himself to create a version of "Canon in D Major" by Johann Pachelbel that rectifies the situation, makes one restore the check next to the album's name that might have been angrily erased while listening to "Top Heavy." In fact, it could be said that this wonderful classical performance is one of the truly liberating moments in music from the perspective of any possible triumph over genre fascism. Here there is a so-called lowbrow country & western musician playing European art music on an electric instrument, no less. The results are sheer genius, a contemplative and almost spiritual performance in which there is as much exquisitely small detail as any of the classics of minimalism. That the same person can be responsible for all the tracks on this record is one of the mysteries of the universe -- but hey, that's Nashville.

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