Porter Wagoner & the Wagonmasters

Skidrow Joe-Down in the Alley

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This LP is worth seeking out -- as so many of Porter Wagoner's are -- just for the cover, which shows him with reverse Grecian formula in his hair, dressed in skid row clothes, standing outside the old Ryman circa 1970, with an empty pint bottle behind him, hat in hand, looking insane. It's funnier than hell. Like "The Rubber Room" from the mid-'60s, this is a theme album on the horrors, reasons, and solutions for drinking. As Skid Row Joe himself puts it in the liner notes: "Here are some thoughts and sights that go on in a wino's mind -- a man that drinks to ease the pain." There are the amazing spoken word dialogues such as Wagoner's own "The Silent Kind," delivered in the first person, or "The Sidewalks of Chicago" written by Dave Kirby, which was a minor hit for Merle Haggard in the '60s. There's also a stunning version of Dolly Parton's gem "The Alley" that Wagoner delivers without irony or humor, but stark, blistering emotion. On the flip Wagoner does justice to two more Parton songs, "One More Dime" and the closer, which is the most devastating thing on the set, "When I Drink My Wine." Charlie Alridge's "Mama" restates the alleged reason for Skid Row Joe's existence -- or lack of -- with "Mama" and the unlikely choice of Tom Paxton's "Bottle of Wine," later covered by the rock band the Fireballs, and Johnny Mullin' "I Judged a Man" is the album's best morality play. In all Wagoner succeeds again on another of his concept albums. He lends both humor and pathos to his subject and delivers all of it without a trace of irony or cynicism. This is honky tonk music all right, but it may make you think twice about hanging out in them so often.