George Hamilton IV managed to retain his commercial viability by changing his style at several critical junctures in his career. He first sought fame as a country singer but became a teen idol when rock & roll provided a better opportunity. He returned to country music in the '60s as teen idols' popularity was waning and then, spotting another opportunity, enjoyed some success covering folk songs (particularly those of Gordon Lightfoot) for the country audience. Early Morning Rain collects ten of his performances of Lightfoot's songs, two of which were hits. "Steel Rail Blues" is one of Lightfoot's best, a haunting rambler's tale that was only a minor hit for Hamilton in 1966. "Early Morning Rain," however, returned Hamilton to the Top Ten. It's intriguing to hear Hamilton perform songs written for a different audience and from a sensibility very different from Nashville's; "Ballad of the Yarmouth Castle," in particular, is a song you wouldn't expect a '60s country artist to sing. Occasionally, when delivering a mildly gritty lyric, Hamilton sings it with a chuckle to dilute its effect on the country audience; that might be expected considering Hamilton's squeaky-clean image, but it undercuts the gravity of Lightfoot's songs. Hamilton's versions are enjoyable and helped popularize Lightfoot to a broader audience, but are no match for the originals.
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