Boxcar Willie

Truck Drivin' Son of a Gun

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Lecil 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 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. Martin was smart enough to change his mode of motion from trains to trucks as his career went on, and the material collected here is from his trucker phase. Again, the fact that he was no more a trucker than he was a railroader didn't seem to bother anybody, since he played the part so well in those TV ads. Nothing here is startling or the least bit innovative, and when Boxcar covers Merle Haggard's "White Line Fever," to cite an example, his version seems washed out and pale next to Haggard's original. But perhaps that was really the point, since Boxcar wasn't threatening and Haggard damn well could be. The best song here is a surprisingly nuanced reading of "Dixie," where Martin manages to genuinely convey some powerful emotions that rise above mere nostalgia.

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