Rural Route #1 was Dave Dudley's fourth album for Mercury and reflects his growing confidence in his medium -- Dudley was the voice of the working man, the traveling man, and the decent folks who liked their music snappy, energetic, and with a sense of humor. There are two bona fide Dudley-penned classics here, the enigmatic "Big Country" and a song that has become part of country music's canon, "Sleepy-Eyed John." In addition, there is a far more authentic reading of Red Foley's "Old Shep" than the cornpone one done by Elvis eight years earlier. In the grain of Dudley's voice the song becomes a believable story -- despite the cheesy lyrics -- of conflict between a man and his lifelong best friend, his dog. A couple of other standouts on the set are a pair of Tom T. Hall covers, the rowdy, Saturday night celebration of "Pretty Weather" and the poignant ballad "The Drought," one of Hall's reflection songs about a farmer who's lost everything and everyone due to a drought and his stubbornness. It's the most poignant and painful song on the album and would not have been out of place in the repertoire of George Jones (in his Pappy Dailey years) or Merle Haggard. Above all, what carries Rural Route #1 is Dudley's basso profundo charm. He hadn't yet become the trucker's songwriter, but he nonetheless had all the elements in place in his honky tonk tunes such as Don Dreyer's "Honey Babe." There's also a fine spoken word remake of "Old Rivers," but it's not the definitive one -- Walter Brennan's is. Perhaps the finest moment on the album is in Dudley's version of the Harry Beasley Smith-Haven Gillespie classic "Lucky Old Sun." Unlike Willie Nelson's crooning version of a decade later, Dudley's read comes from the voice of a man sweating over his plough, and the yearning in his voice comes from more than a turn of lyric, but rather from a genuine empathy with the song's protagonist. Rural Route #1 may not be Dudley's most well-known album, but it is certainly one of his finest.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek