Porter Wagoner


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That Porter Wagoner released a new album during the year of his 80th birthday -- some 55 years after his first recording -- is an event worth celebrating in itself. That it is consistent with the best work of his career is remarkable. Wagoner has always played it straight -- his brand of mainstream country-tonk never was as fashionable as his spangled stage outfits, and he never pretended to be an outlaw -- and that's just what he continues to do here. Though his baritone is more weathered than during his prime, Wagoner sounds decades younger on Wagonmaster, and there remains a youthful exuberance to the music. The only obvious signs of his age surface during the spoken word sections, such as the intros to "Albert Erving," a song of abject loneliness, and "Committed to Parkview," which Johnny Cash wrote for Wagoner but never recorded himself. Like many songs in Wagoner's canon, it's eerie, creepy, and more than a little bit sad, a vivid account of life inside a Nashville asylum, listening to the "guests," one of whom "thinks he's Hank Williams." One of the highlights of Wagonmaster, the song was presented to Wagoner -- himself a former "guest" at the facility, as had been Cash -- by Marty Stuart, who took a no-frills, purist's approach to his production of Wagonmaster (pedal steel rules!). There are songs of hard loss ("The Late Love of Mine," "Be a Little Quieter") and hard work, songs of faith (the back-to-back "Brother Harold Dee" and "Satan's River"), and songs of good times too -- all of them are classic Wagoner, one of the last of the true giants of Nashville's golden era.

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