Look closely at the cover credit on Bear Family’s second Buck Owens box, Open Up Your Heart: the subtitle makes clear this is “The Buck Owens & the Buckaroos Recordings 1965-1968,” which means this seven-disc set is not limited to recordings where Buck sings lead. Everything the Buckaroos made without Buck is here along with all of his studio sessions from those four years, and that’s a ton of music: a total of 12 albums released under Buck’s name, along with several cuts that would appear on 1969’s Tall Dark Stranger, plus the six LPs the Buckaroos cut during that time and a handful of alternate takes capped off by session tapes that eat up the bulk of the set’s seventh disc. That’s 249 tracks cut over a scant four years, the massive output proof of the huge popularity of Buck Owens & the Buckaroos in the late ‘60s. During this period most of Buck’s LPs reached the top of the country charts -- if not, they came close, never dipping below number five -- and so did most of his singles, with “Before You Go,” “Buckaroo,” “Only You (Can Break My Heart),” “Open Up Your Heart,” “Think of Me,” “Waitin’ in Your Welfare Line,” “Sam’s Place,” “Where Does the Good Times Go,” “Your Tender Loving Care,” and “How Long Will My Baby Be Gone” all reaching number one. When a formula is working so well there’s no incentive to change, so Owens & the Buckaroos didn’t, choosing to build their brand in other areas, notably those Buckaroos solo albums but also putting a Bakersfield stamp on two Christmas albums and two gospel albums (one not seeing release until 1970), while also cutting two instrumental albums of his own and two live albums, neither of which are here because they’re outside of the studio-specific scope of this set. Such strict adherence to formula means there is a lot of virtuosity but not much variety on Open Up Your Heart, particularly when compared to the restless exploration Merle Haggard displayed on his Capitol recordings during the same era. Basically, Buck & the Buckaroos locked into a high gear and never shifted, churning out music of a consistently high quality that only veers off track toward the end, when fuzz guitars are introduced into “Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass.” Apart from that, this is clean, crisp Bakersfield country performed by the band that did it best, the only flaw being that it’s a little bit much to take in an extended sitting. So, don’t listen to all seven discs of Open Up Your Heart at once -- sample liberally, a disc at a time, and Buck & the Buckaroos still sound singular instead of sounding a little samey.
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