In the old days before country music was regarded as a viable commercial medium by the mainstream music industry (a discovery that has caused country & western nothing but trouble since), practically every city of any size had at least one honky tonk with a house band capable of playing anything a customer was likely to request. In Chicago, the Sundowners were a three-piece country band that held court from 1959 to 1989 in a handful of Windy City beer joints; they spent most of their career at a club called the R.R. Ranch, where they would play all night four nights a week and run through 7,000 songs in a year. While on the surface the Sundowners might sound like an ordinary bar band, Chicago Country Legends is a collection of live recordings culled from 11 years of gigs, which proves they were anything but. Don Walls' jazzy, Merle Travis-inspired lead guitar lines would have been the envy of any number of Nashville pickers, second guitarist Bob Boyd and bassist Curt Delaney were a strong enough rhythm section that one rarely noticed the lack of a drummer, and their harmonies were as crisp and refreshing as an ice-cold beer. The Sundowners also knew how to mix up their repertoire, running from traditional classics like "Tom Dooley" and "Miller's Cave" to (then) contemporary pop hits from the Beatles and Bobby Darin, all played with their own unique mix of down-home feeling and big-city flair. Some musicians achieve overnight success that makes them famous worldwide, but only for a matter of a few years (or months), while others quietly make wonderful music that's heard only by a small number of people at a time, but they keep on doing it for decades. The Sundowners fell squarely into the latter category, and while Chicago Country Legends is a loving tribute to what made them memorable, it also by extension pays homage to the literally thousands of unknown musicians who without the glare of the limelight play fine, soul-satisfying music every night of the week. God bless the honky tonks, and bless the memory of the Sundowners, whose fine sounds will be remembered long after Toby Keith is merely a troubling memory.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming
feat: Johnny Davis