Hoyt Axton

Rusty Old Halo

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As the '70s came to a final fizzle, this songwriter had a thriving acting career and probably plenty of money. Maybe he didn't need to keep recording, and skeptics who might have been worn down by the uneven nature of his recording career would probably question whether Axton had anything more to say on record. The recording industry that had made a fortune on his work had come to such a negative conclusion, leading Axton to start his own label and put this record out himself, yet another addition to a teetering pile of sides that he began in the early '60s with Vee-Jay, progressing through stages of thought-provoking country art music that attracted musician followers, to ultra-laid-back outlaw country that attracted Hollywood airheads. Here he assembles several busloads of heavy-duty musician friends and looks back over all these developments in his music, choosing a song from 1974, another from 1978, and basically putting together a full album of the different aspects of his work with many less missteps than on his albums as a young man. His sincerity, one of his great strengths when it is present, is a strong part of the success of tracks such as the title song or the superb "So Hard to Give It All Up." Many of the tracks just don't seem to get a chance to breathe, however, such is the steamroller effect of one band in which guitarist Steve Stills, his tone dazzling and bright, fights to keep up with the rollicking New Orleans rhythms created by Dr. John, one of the masters of that city's recording studios. Such authenticity and style is a bit lost on the low-key Axton, however -- a bit like laying out an enormous spread of spicy food for someone with terrible heartburn. Axton almost staggers through the likes of the corny "Wild Bull Rider" and is too old and exhausted to be wondering about what's "In a Young Girl's Mind." The presence of his old compatriot James Burton on guitar bolsters confidence, however, and is highlighted on tracks where the guitarist and his fellow session pros create a veneer that would have been smooth enough for Elvis.

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