Buck Owens

Act Naturally [Golden Stars]

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His years as comedic host of Hee Haw have obscured the fact that Buck Owens was a top-notch honky tonker who, along with Merle Haggard and Owens' fiddle player turned guitar player Don Rich, helped establish the bright, rock-inflected Bakersfield sound in the mid-'60s. Having the Beatles cover one of your songs ("Act Naturally") didn't hurt things, either. But Owens wasn't an overnight success, and as this three-disc collection of his early work for Claude Caviness' Pep Records and his very first sides for Capitol Records show, his sound started out as fairly derivative. Once Rich discovered that guitar, though, and Owens began to write with a clear idea of what he was after, things really gelled. There are some nice performances here, though, including versions of "Act Naturally," "Down on the Corner of Love," "Let the World Keep on Turnin'," and Red Simpson's "Close Up the Honky Tonks," but the later hits for which Owens is known, songs like "Streets of Bakersfield" and "I've Got a Tiger by the Tail" are absent here, making this set feel a bit like a warm-up act.

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