Various Artists

Early Country Rock from Nashville

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If the phrase "early country rock from Nashville" is used in mainstream rock books, it will usually refer to the mid- to late-'60s recordings made in Music City by Bob Dylan, the Byrds, and the numerous other folk-rockers and singer/songwriters who followed their lead to cut discs there. This CD, however, has no such famous artists, and indeed, is a lot more country than rock, though it's not without its interest. Instead, it's wholly devoted to obscure recordings that appeared on the Spar label, an independent company that didn't have much of the way in commercial success, but recorded a great deal of music in a variety of genres. No exact recording dates or original release information are given for these two-dozen tracks, unfortunately, though an educated guess would put the time frame between the mid-'60s and early '70s. When Bergen White is about the best known of the artists, you know you're not talking about either the front-line of country-rockers or the A-team of Nashville sessionmen.

Nonetheless, this is a pretty solid set of obscure Nashville country music of the era that took some influences from contemporary rock and soul, if you're willing to look past packaging that's skimpy on hard information. It sounds rather like someone at a Nashville publisher or studio decided, for his or her own pleasure, to wade through the mass of demos or studio tapes submitted by hopefuls who never made it, culling some of the better unreleased material that wasn't deemed quite commercial enough to merit serious investment. If it's short on true inspiration or innovation, the performances are almost unflaggingly sincere, and many of the songs reasonably catchy and lyrically intelligent, even as they fail to sound like convincing possible hits. Some of this verges on rock, including the novelty "I Ain't No Beatle" by Jack White (no, not that Jack White); a good deal of it's honky tonk or really straight Nashville country-pop that, despite the CD's title, isn't close to country-rock; and a few of the better songs seem like attempts to capture some of the country-pop crossover vibe of songs like "Gentle on My Mind." Steve Bess' "There Was a Time" has enough of a sense of wistful early- to mid-'60s pop hooks to stand out as a possible crossover hit that someone missed picking up on as a choice of material to cover. The compilation's not strong enough to recommend as something even open-minded, serious '60s Nashville country enthusiasts are likely to play over and over. But it's plenty diverting enough while it's spinning, and contains pretty consistently decent efforts that few would discover if they weren't compiled onto one CD.

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