Vern Gosdin

24 Karat Heartache

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On his second album in 1997 and his first for the American Harvest Recording Society after leaving Columbia, Vern Gosdin enlisted Ron Oates as co-producer. This is the most melancholy and dark record he's ever issued. It's also the most beautiful and tender. In fact, given how many albums he's issued, this is one of the true classics in his catalog. Having written everything here, Gosdin claims they were written for one woman who left him; he also says quite honestly that when she left these songs became hard to sing, and he did the best he could. Damn! Gosdin's protagonists take full responsibility for their folly in losing the women they love. This is plain on "The Number," where two men meet in a bar -- one claims to know the best lover in town and the protagonist gets his number from the boaster, only to find it's his own and blame himself for her going bad. And this is just the beginning. The title cut, in classic Gosdin ballad style, is about a woman whose wedding ring becomes a "24 Karat Heartache" 24 hours a day. "Three or Four Times a Day" is the silky Gosdin honky tonk trademark. Without the slickness of his Columbia productions, the true depth of Gosdin's voice comes bursting forth from the mix in pure country-soul grandeur. "All the Way Through" is a midtempo love song with a dynamite chorus, accented rhythm section, and backing vocal by Dennis Wilson. The hard-driving "Wettest Dry County" is badass outlaw country with kicking guitars and pedal steel. "What I Threw Away" is the most devastating, self-incriminating confession Gosdin's ever written. On the last two tracks, "I'm Where a Memory (Can Die for a Night)" and "Where Do We Take It from Here," Gosdin shows listeners both sides of the coin of escapism and the wish to transcend the present state of separation and resolve it all one way or another. But in the grain of Gosdin's voice, it feels like this is a futile exercise, whispered by a ghost. There are few records as consistently fine in country music. There are few singers who could pull off a set like this without sounding forced or hackneyed, but then, Gosdin is the Smokey Robinson of country music, and what else would you expect?

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