After two decades, Columbia Records dropped Lefty Frizzell in 1972, a move that, according to all reports, hit the singer very hard. He signed with ABC by the end of the year, and, over the next two years cut 23 songs with producer Don Gant, enough material for two albums. Varese's 1996 compilation That's the Way Love Goes: The Final Recordings of Lefty Frizzell offers a 16-track overview of those ABC recordings, including the six minor hits he had for the label. By this point, Frizzell had gone nearly a decade without a major hit; his last was "Saginaw, Michigan" in early 1964, and he was best-known among country fans as a legend, one who was particularly influential on Merle Haggard (who used Frizzell's singing as the template for his own style). Frizzell had fallen on hard times; in addition to being dropped from his longtime home, he had descended into alcoholism and was divorcing his wife. Such sorrow makes for great country music, and the music he made for ABC was indeed great. It's not fair to compare it to his classic Columbia hits from the '50s -- after all, that was groundbreaking work, and it's hard to break ground again -- but as latter-day recordings go, it's not just good work, it's often great, standing proudly alongside the work of a younger Frizzell. What makes this music especially compelling is that it is indeed the work of an older Frizzell and all of the sorrow and loss is etched on his voice, giving this music depth even on numbers that don't necessarily have it on their own. Fortunately, he recorded excellent material throughout his time at ABC, highlighted by "That's the Way Love Goes" and the heartbreaking "I Never Go Around Mirrors" (both co-written by Frizzell with Sanger D. Schafer), Jerry Jeff Walker and Jimmy Buffett's "Railroad Lady," a revival of his old hit "I Love You a Thousand Ways," and Merle Haggard's moving "Life's Like Poetry." Gant's production is warm, relaxed, and mellow, faithful to Frizzell's pure country sound but slyly updated for '70s country radio, and it suits Frizzell's weary, introspective readings. It is music that has aged very well indeed, and while this may leave seven songs behind on LP, they can be heard on Bear Family's complete Life's Like Poetry set. This distills these recordings to the 16 best and provides a wonderful, near essential overview of the final days of a legend.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine