Eddie Noack

Psycho: The K-Ark & Allstar Recordings, 1962-1969

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Eddie Noack had a rough '50s, working hard and never scoring a hit, but that's nothing compared to his '60s. After he was dropped by Mercury, the singer wound up drifting to Allstar, a fly-by-night Nashville indie that specialized in "song poems" -- suckers would send in lyrics and pro musicians would set them to music, for a fee -- and found space for Noack, a songwriter who had success, but a singer who had none. At Allstar, he was usually able to record his own songs, but Noack wound up chasing trends instead of setting them. Specifically, he wound up cutting several singles in the style of Buck Owens & the Buckaroos, sides that may not have charted but illustrated Noack was a pro, capable of following shifting fashions and delivering upon them ably, even appealingly. Throughout the sessions chronicled on this 24-track collection, it's always evident that Noack was a guy who knew what makes a good country song work, whether he's writing a tune or singing one, but his flat affect meant that he never quite seemed like a star; he just was another good country singer in a time filled with them. This sturdiness and all the shifting styles, also evident on his late-'60s sides for K-Ark, make this 2013 Bear Family set feel like the music coming from a forgotten jukebox, and that'd be enough to recommend it to hardcore country fans, but this is also distinguished by the first-ever version of Leon Payne's unsettling "Psycho." Written from the perspective of a serial killer -- and loosely inspired by the serial killers Ed Gein and Richard Speck -- "Psycho" was later popularized by Elvis Costello, who found it through Jack Kittel's version, but Noack's is the first and greatest, partially due to his stoicism: he sounds so nonplussed by the horror he chronicles that this flirts with being outsider art -- quite an accomplishment for a Nashville insider. "Psycho" could be called unparalleled if only Noack didn't bewilderingly cut a de facto sequel immediately afterward in the form of "Dolores," an original tune also written from the perspective of a serial killer. It's as if Noack thought "Psycho" had the possibility of being a sensation so he'd better have another tune in the same vein. Combined, these two oddities elevate Psycho into something truly special: a compelling voyage through the dark, twisty, unmapped side roads of '60s country.

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