The Australian reissue label the Omni Recording Corporation specializes in ferreting out the oddest country recordings from the '60s, often digging deep into the vaults to find bizarre album tracks that have fallen by the wayside. This may not necessarily result in the most accurate retrospectives for a given artist -- by its nature it has neglected big hits in favor of oddities -- but it sure makes for fascinating listening and Rubber Room, their 2006 compilation of Porter Wagoner music, is their greatest piece of historical revisionism yet, rivaling their Henson Cargill collection as the best disc they've yet released (the Cargill collection qualifies as straight-up history, since it is his first CD release ever). Of course, Omni's off-kilter reading of the Wagoner catalog doesn't come entirely out of the blue: he provided them with the raw material on his many LPs from the '60s and '70s whose album covers actually gave a good indication of his fondness for theatricality. Those covers -- many of which are replicated in the booklet to Rubber Room -- found Wagoner sporting all manners of wardrobe and makeup to emphasize the album's title: he was decked out as a hobo on Confessions of a Broken Man, staring into a reflection of himself as a wino on The Bottom of the Bottle, behind bars on Soul of a Convict and walked in on his unfaithful woman on The Cold Hard Facts of Life. His recordings often had a similarly theatrical bent, thanks to their choirs, strings, special effects and layers of Nashville production, and he also had an affection that kitsch that could turn a song that was otherwise merely mawkish into something operatic.
Naturally, all these tendencies are highlighted on Rubber Room, a collection that features 29 tracks cut between 1965 and 1977 but only has the occasional hit, like "The Carroll County Accident." Some of this may not initially sound all that odd, but the lyrics will take a sudden left turn into darkness, as on Dolly Parton's "Fairchild," which begins as a love song and ends in suicide. Then, there are the tunes that are essentially camp, like "Indian Creek" which arrives complete with stereotypical Indian war chants pulsating in the background. These are paired with songs that have a nearly Baroque over-production, like the reverb-heavy "Shopworn" or the ominous, haunting crawl of "Out of the Silence (Came a Song)," left-field detours like the jazzy "Wino" and such truly bizarre cuts such as the title track, complete with its swooning strings and Wagoner's broken-up echoed vocals, and "The Party," a duet with Parton where they play a couple whose children die at home while they're out partying. In this context, excellent straightforward country songs like "Crumbs from Another Man's Table" seem a little skewed, but they're also needed here since they give an indication of the depth and range of Wagoner's talents, that he just wasn't obsessed with car crashes, Indians and insanity as he so often is on this compilation -- and he's enough of a Music City pro to make these eccentricities compelling, not tedious. By hinting at what truly constitutes the bulk of Wagoner's catalog as they concentrate on the odd detours, Omni winds up with a rich, varied, rather addictive collection that offers a worthy footnote to his storied career. Wagoner may never have intended his music to be assembled in this fashion, but as heard on Rubber Room he comes across as the oddest cat in Nashville -- which, as it turns out, is a pretty cool thing to be.