Louis Armstrong

Louis "Country and Western" Armstrong

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The first instinct for rating this album, which most experts on Louis Armstrong don't even think exists, was to give it the lowest possible grade, as a suggestion of a direction to continue going in. That would represent a poetic, exciting, confirmation of music as a paradox, in which an artist who creates some of the greatest records in history also comes up with one of the worst. Louis "Country and Western" Armstrong does not even conform to the usual jazz snobbery regarding this great man's career, in which brilliant singles such as "Mame," "Happy Africa," or "It's a Wonderful World" are dismissed as crap. Fans of Armstrong's singing, in fact, will probably hate this record even more than fans of his trumpet playing, although that would probably be because the latter will never even get all the way through this platter once they realize Satchmo is not going to be playing trumpet at all on it.

At this juncture in the reflections regarding this production by the Avco Embassy label, the prospect of a somewhat higher rating becomes more likely, based on certain justifiable principles behind the recording. Few of these aspects are actually audible as sound, but if anybody deserves to be granted the benefit of the doubt it would be Armstrong. With the understanding that he was one of the great musical geniuses of the 20th century, it nonetheless must be stated firmly that in the final judgment, delivered by someone attempting to sit through this record, no rating system of any kind can really describe just what a total piece of crap it is.

Five stars, though, for the idea of making a country record with Armstrong. Another five for putting the talented producer and songwriter Jack Clement in charge. Certain bouquets are in order for compiling the selection of songs, a program that features hardcore country by writers such as Clement and Merle Kilgore, as well as a touch of Western swing and folk-rock. Armstrong's obvious flair for song stories is exploited, and what a wonderful idea to have him do a version of "Get Together." It is worth the price of the album to hear him sing the lyrics "Come on people now, smile on your brother." But of course there is an understanding that if found at all, this album is going to be in the part of the used record pile that is not behind lock and key.

Needless to say, Clement hired a good Nashville rhythm section for this affair, three stars for them. No stars, though, for the decision to have the lead vocals added by Armstrong on a strictly overdub basis in a New York studio. The resulting lack of any sort of sympathy or communication between Armstrong and the accompanying musicians is simply a total death blow. The voice of Armstrong on his pop hits was not heard on this kind of low-rent basis. The arrangements on those records represent a kind of subtle love affair with the Satchmo vocal style, delicate or rowdy as required, sweetly and sensibly crafted by talented arrangers. These "country" recordings are just rhythm run-throughs, with Armstrong singing, mumbling, and commenting over the top; the instrumental parts are devoid of any flair or commitment whatsoever.

Less than no stars -- in fact a caning would be well-deserved -- for whoever decided to have Armstrong not play trumpet on the record. It is hard to believe that Clement would have had anything to do with this concept, yet he could easily have been powerless to stop it. It would have added some interest to these proceedings if Armstrong had even recorded trumpet as he did the vocals, simply overdubbing on the Nashville session -- especially considering that some of the tracks seem to be sort of stretched out, leaving space for someone to improvise, which in this case is Armstrong talking, sometimes making kind of strange comments. He does indeed praise the musicians for having "strange chops": it's a moment that can be appreciated, but hardly makes up for the loss of what could have been an exciting thing, Armstrong jamming with country session men. It isn't such a ridiculous idea -- one of the songs covered, "Crazy Arms," was a Western swing hit, played by groups in which the horn soloists were more than just slightly influenced by Armstrong.

This is the last Louis Armstrong record anyone ever needs to get. One of the hopeful things about this fact is that Armstrong has so many records out that even someone trying to get every single one might not get stuck with this one in the course of a collecting lifetime.