Stuart Hamblen

Beyond the Sun

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Stuart Hamblen was a multifaceted early country star -- a prolific writer, actor (usually playing the bad guy), radio show host, and above all, in his later years, a media evangelist and gospel performer. He recorded scores of albums (he was the first artist signed by MCA Records in 1934), and some of them, like 1961's The Spell of the Yukon, which was inspired by the work of poet Robert Service, were actually early concept albums that revealed Hamblen's sharp creative mind. He could also be overly dramatic -- his frequent recitation records (he was the forerunner of Jimmy Dean in a lot of respects, although he never went into the breakfast sausage business) are hard to listen to sometimes -- but he also wrote scores of wonderful songs, a handful of which are found on this gospel-heavy 24-track survey of Hamblen's long recording career. Among the gems found here are the chugging, banjo-led "Blood Upon Your Hands," the poignant "This Ole House" (reportedly written while Hamblen was on a hunting trip with the actor John Wayne), the compassionate and emotionally majestic "Somewhere Beyond the Sun," and the brilliant "Hell Train," which features a smart string arrangement and an amazing women's vocal chorus that mimics the sound of a train whistle. All too often, though, Hamblen tipped over into dramatic overkill, and his straight gospel material was frequently more concerned with damnation than redemption, making him seem at times harsh and grim. A fascinatingly conflicted artist (his secular sides were hard-edged honky tonk in stance while his gospel sides refuted it and cried for judgment), Hamblen has been poorly served in the digital era, making this set, which is no more than adequate, one of the best currently available.

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