Carl Smith

The Sixties Hits of Carl Smith

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Carl Smith's legacy and reputation is built on the hardcore honky tonk he cut for Columbia in the '50s, which ranks among the purest and best of its era. Since the dawn of the CD reissue boom in the '80s, that has been the Carl Smith music that's been reissued, first on Columbia/Legacy's excellent The Essential Carl Smith (1950-1956) then on Bear Family's fine 1996 five-disc box set Satisfaction Guaranteed, which contained the entirety of his '50s recordings. So much emphasis was placed on this era that listeners who came to Smith late may have thought he didn't record or didn't have success in the '60s, when the opposite is true. He continued recording for Columbia in the '60s, and while he rarely broke the country Top Ten, he placed frequently in the Top 20 right into 1970, ranking as one of the most consistent, reliable singers of the decade. This material remained out of print until Collectors Choice's 2002 collection The Sixties Hits of Carl Smith, which rounded up 24 of his hits, including every side that charted in the Top 20, along with seven singles that charted in the Top 40 or beyond. Smith didn't play it as pure as he did during the '50s: his honky tonk became a little less gritty, his productions were a little smoother, occasionally adding sweet backing vocals, he dabbled in folk and pop inflections, and he generally streamlined his music to fit the times. These concessions read tougher than they sound because, no matter how he polished or refined his sound, he stayed true to straight-ahead country and honky tonk in particular, which is part of the reason why he charted so consistently in the middle reaches of the charts -- he consistently reached the country faithful, those listeners who wanted real country, regardless of the trends, which also meant that none of his singles gained a big enough audience to push into the Top Ten (apart from 1959's "Battle of New Orleans"-aping "Ten Thousand Drums," which rode the historical song fad to the upper reaches of the charts). While it is true that there is no one song that stands out from the pack, it's also true that there are no dogs, either. It's a consistently satisfying collection displaying a little more variety than expected while still staying true to Smith's vision of pure country. This is a very welcome release not just for Smith's legions of fans, but for any serious country music listener, since this proves that he wasn't just one of the best honky tonk singers of the '50s, he was one of the best of the '60s, too. Hopefully, Bear Family will follow this superb disc with a box set of Smith's complete '60s recordings, because after hearing this, it's hard not to want more.

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