Porter Wagoner

The Best I've Ever Been

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Notwithstanding the press materials accompanying this CD that claim it is Porter Wagoner's first new album in 20 or 25 years, he has continued recording, fitfully, since parting company with RCA Victor in 1981 after close to 30 years on the label. But his releases have been largely on his own labels and have consisted largely of re-recordings of his old hits. The Best I've Ever Been (an unfortunate title that gives the incorrect impression that this is another hits collection), the second release on the independent Nashville label Shell Point Records, is the 72-year-old's treatment of a group of songs written by Damon Black, a former Missouri farmer who turns out to have a true sense of what makes a good country song. Black is especially strong on the leadoff track, "Brewster's Farm," a song about the plight of farmers that deserves to be the theme song of Farm Aid, even if it does rhyme "farm" with "foreign." Black can also write a country song with a twist, such as the saga of a May-December romance, "I Knew This Day Would Come." And he specializes in story-songs filled with family reminiscences and homespun philosophy. Wagoner, who is still in good voice, renders the material well, backed by a crack band that includes such Nashville veterans as pianist Hargus "Pig" Robbins. This is an album that for the most part could have been made in 1960 as easily as 2000, and that's not accidental. Shell Point, which previously released the original version of the controversial "Murder on Music Row" as performed by its author, Larry Cordle, is dedicated to promoting traditional country, and there is no greater symbol of traditional country left standing than Porter Wagoner. The Best I've Ever Been furthers the argument that old-timey country, like Wagoner, is alive and well in the new millennium, even if it concludes with a "bonus track" on which the singer looks forward to his heavenly reward.

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