Johnny Paycheck

Live In Branson, MO, USA

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Outlaw country artist Paycheck, who increasingly tried to settle down in his later years, cut this promising live set when he was on the verge of starting his own theatre in the resort town of Branson, MO, a mecca for performers who are tired of the road and want the audience to come to them for a change. From the look of things, this is the sort of country & western set that is released too infrequently -- a live set recorded direct to two-track without any studio gloss. And particularly in the case of Paycheck, it has none of the homogenized production that has plagued recordings from his post-prison comeback years, as if an unsuccessful attempt was being made to drain all the personality out of the music for fear of offending anyone. Unfortunately, this CD is hampered by production problems that are more serious than the lack of punctuation in the abbreviation for Missouri on the front cover. The live recording balance is tilted unfavorably toward the drummer, which is a total drag, as this is an uninteresting drummer, able to keep a beat and pull off some fancy double time stuff, but lacking even the simplest notion of how to create a drum sound that makes the other players and the song sound good. Picking from guitar and steel guitar is pretty good, but it is never loud enough to have the impact it ought to. Remember, Paycheck is a fellow who made a name for himself not only with rowdy lyrics and attitude, but by featuring over-the-top, heavily distorted pedal steel licks on his early Starday albums. The program here is an intelligent mix of his famous hits and tasteful choices such as Hank Cochran's wonderful "A-11" and Paycheck himself is in superior vocal form. He connects with the material each time out, and the song he wrote before serving his prison sentence, "Old Violin," is really moving. His comments between songs are enjoyable and add character to the proceedings, especially the intro to "Colorado Kool-Aid," wherein he recounts how he realized it was possible to score a hit song based on any subject, so why not "one about some old boy who gets his ear cut off?" Production also gets in the way here, as these spoken asides are mixed so low the listener would have to adjust the volume each time in order to understand what Paycheck is talking about, then turn it back down again when the band starts up. Quieter parts of songs -- and the band definitely has a knack for dynamics -- annoyingly also almost vanish in the mastering. Lead guitarist Jeff Lytle is possibly a relation of the star, whose real name is Donald Lytle.

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