Boxcar Willie

The Tomato Collection

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Lecil Travis Martin, the son of a railroad worker, got nowhere in the country music business until he invented a character, Boxcar Willie, a lovable hobo who sang songs that appealed to America's nostalgic sense of a bygone, better era when trains ruled and hard rain was just a heck of a rainstorm and nothing else. That Boxcar really wasn't anything special as a singer or guitarist (although he did have a talent for imitating train whistles) hardly mattered as much as the songs he sang, which celebrated an idealized, iconic America, and when he began hawking his albums on late-night TV ads, it was a brilliant case of concept over substance, not to mention inspired marketing. And it certainly worked, since Martin -- as Willie -- became a beloved crowd favorite, and even though he was never on a major record label, even non-country fans know his name and hobo image. This collection from Tomato shows Martin to be a pleasant, if unspectacular, country singer with a clear sense of the genre's history, and if he didn't add much to that history, he didn't dishonor it, either. If Boxcar Willie hadn't existed, someone would have had to come along to invent him.

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