Al Dexter

Pistol Packin' Mama [Roots of Country]

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By the early '50s, Al Dexter's popularity had faded -- his last major hits were in 1948. But when the Texas singer was still on top, he was among country's more progressive and cutting-edge artists. Dexter, who favored an unassuming, easygoing style of singing, managed to influence hardcore honky tonk and Nashville country-pop at the same time, and he also demonstrated that a country artist could successfully incorporate swing, classic jazz, and jump blues elements. Assembled in 2001, this two-CD set boasts many of Dexter's definitive '40s hits, including "Rosalita," "So Long Pal," "Triflin' Gal," "Wine, Women and Song," "Too Late to Worry, Too Blue to Cry," "Kokomo Island," and "I'm Losing My Mind Over You." The title track, of course, became Dexter's signature tune -- and the fact that "Pistol Packin' Mama" was covered by Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra illustrates his crossover appeal. Although Dexter was admired by hardcore honky tonkers, he wasn't a country purist. Again, jazz and blues were strong influences, and many of the 28 songs on this double CD are full of jazz-minded horn arrangements. Dexter, like fellow Texan Bob Wills, could make a fiddle and a twangy steel guitar sound perfectly natural alongside a Louis Armstrong-influenced trumpet. As much as Pistol Packin' Mama has going for it, the collection isn't without its shortcomings. A few essential recordings are missing, including "Guitar Polka" and 1937's "Honky Tonk Blues" (the single that popularized the term honky tonk). And regrettably, Roots of Country doesn't bother to provide recording dates, which is the type of laziness that frustrates collectors to no end. But all things considered, Pistol Packin' Mama is a rewarding collection by one of the most important country stars of the '30s and '40s.

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