Vernon Dalhart

Inducted into the Hall of Fame, 1981

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At the time of its release in the fall of 1999 as part of a series devoted to members of the Country Music Hall of Fame, this ten-song, discount-priced album was the only collection in print in the U.S. devoted to 1920s country star Vernon Dalhart. Dalhart was an opera singer who found pop success in his early forties as a singer of what was then called hillbilly music. In 1925, he hooked up with Victor Records for the single "The Prisoner's Song"/"The Wreck of the Old 97" (he also recorded under pseudonyms for many other labels). It became the biggest hit of the year and reportedly is second only to Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" as the best-selling record of the first half of the 20th century in the U.S. The two songs set a pattern Dalhart followed for the next few years; they were sad story songs of people in tragic circumstances. With his clearly articulated yet slightly accented voice (he was from Texas) singing over simple guitar or piano accompaniment, plus occasional whistling and Jew's harp among other spare effects, Dalhart became the king of sentimental and maudlin music, singing about "The Death of Floyd Collins" (in a cave collapse), "The Governor's Pardon" (which comes just in time to save a condemned man), "The Wreck of the Shenandoah" (a dirigible), and "A Memory That Time Cannot Erase" (for a deceased loved one), and declaring "There's a New Star in Heaven To-Night" (recently deceased silent-film star Rudolf Valentino). All of these are found on this collection, along with a few more pleasant tunes that were also hits and a cover of the 1910 song "Casey Jones" (about a train wreck). On several tracks, Dalhart is accompanied by his partner Carson Robison, who wrote a number of the songs. Unusual for recordings of this vintage, no noise-reduction process has been employed, and while that preserves the dynamic range, it also means that these are very noisy tracks. Listening to the album is exactly like playing a bunch of original 78s on a record player, with their excessive hiss and crackles. Still, this is a reasonably priced collection of some of the biggest hits by one of the biggest hitmakers of the second half of the 1920s and a clear influence on country progenitors like Jimmie Rodgers.

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