This Taragon release, Sings Songs of Country Style, pairs two of Joni James' original MGM albums, Songs of Hank Williams (1959) and Country Style (1962), on one CD. James had a voice like the girl next door, if the girl next door was a consummate singer of romantic pop ballads. She is not the type of vocalist one would normally expect to deliver down-home country music, and, accordingly, her country albums are country only insofar as the songs originated in the country field. With crystal clear enunciation and orchestral pop arrangements, James transforms country material into pop ballads, in effect building an elegant mansion where the barn used to be. Her album of Hank Williams' songs makes few concessions to country music conventions, which occasionally yields incongruous results. For instance, James refuses to drop the "g" in "Your Cheatin' Heart," a stylistic choice akin to Pat Boone's (foiled) desire to remake Fats Domino's "Ain't That a Shame" as "Isn't That a Shame." She sounds uncomfortable with the ethnicity and Cajun colloquialism of "Jambalaya (On the Bayou)," but handles ballads such as "Half as Much" -- a proven winner in the pop market -- with aplomb. By the time James got around to recording her second country album, Country Style, the countrypolitan style known as the Nashville sound was in full swing and provided a much more agreeable context for pop singers interested in crossing over to country music. Country Style, being closer to the prevailing sound of country music, is therefore more successful from an artistic standpoint in that it has none of the earlier album's moments of stylistic discordance. It is rare to hear James perform as much up-tempo material as she does on these two albums, which in itself is a potential point of interest for her fans. She had little chance of finding success on the country charts, so these albums should be viewed for what they are: pop adaptations of country songs for the pop audience.
Sings Songs of Hank Williams/Country Style Review
by Greg Adams