Various Artists

Early Country and Western from Bullet Records, Nashville

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In the late 1940s and early '50s, the Nashville-based Bullet label recorded a lot of hillbilly music, though its commercial success in the field wasn't extensive. This 28-track, 75-minute compilation gathers a lot of material from its catalog. It's a frustrating anthology to evaluate, as a good deal of it's interesting, but it's not grouped together or packaged in a way that maximizes its value. There are cuts by a surprising number of interesting artists, including Leon Payne, whose compositions "Lost Highway" and "They'll Never Take Her Love from Me" (both here) were covered by Hank Williams, the Texas Troubadours, Ernest Tubb's backing band, and Johnny Lee Wills, brother of Bob Wills. There are also early efforts by Ray Price (both sides of his first single), Chet Atkins (billed as "Chester Atkins"), Sheb Wooley, Hardrock Gunter, and Pee Wee King. Yet there are no original release or recording dates to put them in chronological context, and the surface noise on some of the tracks is pretty high, even considering that those were likely transferred from discs and not tapes. For all that, this does have some very good just-post-war hillbilly, western swing, and early honky tonk. Wooley, known more for his '50s novelties, supplies especially fine honky tonk with the appropriately titled "Oklahoma Honky Tonk Gal." And while some of these performers are pretty obscure, most of them come through with good work, like the vivacious country swing of Autry Inman's "You've Got to Leave Those Other Guys Alone." In its odd way, this collection is the sound of country music starting to find its commercial feet in Nashville, without most of the rougher edges having been sanded off. It's just unfortunate the documentation isn't better, and it might be too catch-all in assembly to interest many people besides specialist collectors: the very audience who would have appreciated a more careful package.

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