Vern Gosdin

Chiseled in Stone

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The 1980s were the beginning of a run of fine albums for Vern Gosdin that continued into the 21st century. It's true that he wasn't always as popular as he was in the late '60s and mid-'70s, but from his period on Compleat through his signing with Columbia and on into American Harvest Recordings in the late '90s, Gosdin has made solid, tough, and aesthetically beautiful country records. The new traditionalists, led by Dwight Yoakam, were the very movement that helped Gosdin regain popular acceptance for a time from the mid-'80s through 1993. Chiseled in Stone ranks as arguably his finest moment of that period. Produced by Bob Montgomery, the album features a deck of tunes from Gosdin and co-writers Hank Cochran and Dean Dillon; if Gosdin didn't co-write, Dillon and Cochran did. What's more, these songs were all written for Gosdin's wonderfully worn yet astonishingly versatile voice. "Do You Believe Me Now," the darkest and most wrenching song on the album, opens it. It's the story of a man on skid row who is suddenly and unexpectedly visited by his ex, and he convinces her by his very ravaged existence that he cannot live without her and asks the question in the title. As Sonny Garrish's steel winds out underneath Gosdin's vocal, all of the pain and pathos in the song comes at the listener full force, yet with the softness of Gosdin's voice, it is believable as a tender revelation as well as a song of unremitting darkness and surrender to the "road of no return." He is punishing no one but himself, but it's important she knows he wasn't lying when he said he was nothing without her. But the very next cut is one of those that Gosdin owns. With the fiddles and steel shuffling along in dance time, "Tight as Twin Fiddles" is a solid, authentic update on the Texas Playboys' sound. The truth is, there isn't a weak track here, from the honky tonk blues of "Set 'Em Up Joe" to the lonesome ache of "I Guess I Had Your Leavin' Comin'" and "Is It Raining at Your House" or the title track. For fans of George Jones' I Am What I Am and Merle Haggard's "Going Where the Lonely Go," this is a reward in and of itself.

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