Porter Wagoner

What Ain't to Be, Just Might Happen/Sings His Own

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Omni’s third Porter Wagoner compilation pairs two LPs from the early ‘70s -- 1972’s What Ain’t to Be, Just Might Happen and 1971’s Porter Wagoner Sings His Own -- and includes ten additional cuts culled from the ‘70s, mainly cherry-picking album tracks but also making space for rare singles from 1974-1976. Much of the reissued Wagoner celebrates his baroque ‘60s records and despite the twin towers of oddness that open the disc -- “Waldo the Weirdo” and “The Rubber Room,” the two songs always used as definitive proof of Wagoner’s weirdness -- this is generally straightforward stuff, perhaps having a bit of a melodramatic bent but never getting as sonically overheated as those two songs, sticking to spangled honky tonk with a slight Bakersfield flair. Plenty of snappy Telecasters and liquid steel guitars are heard throughout What Ain’t to Be, Just Might Happen but the focus is always on the songs, which are almost all written by Wagoner with the exception of a pair from Dolly Parton, “Little Bird” and “Sitting in the Shade,” the former providing the lightest moment on the LP, the latter a good two-step. While the most memorable moments are undeniably the idiosyncratic strangeness of “Waldo the Weirdo” and “The Rubber Room” (“If I Lose My Mind” teases that it belongs in their company but never quite gets there), the rest of the record is strong Nashville country and corn, reaching a peak on its opening title track and closing “Many Kinds of Love.” As the title makes plain, Sings His Own contains nothing but originals from Wagoner, most of them straight-ahead burnished honky tonk and country ballads, punctuated every so often by a character sketch like “Albert Erving,” a deceptively upbeat portrait of a homeless man, and Porter’s signature cornball recitations, like “Brother Harold Dee.” There may be no outright Wagoner classics here but it’s a strong record with no weak spots, driven by the terrific “Late at Night,” the mournful “Lonely Comin’ Down,” the two-step “Be a Little Quieter,” and the gospel-inflected “How High Is the Mountain.” The rest of Omni’s two-fer is filled out with ‘70s oddities; the best among them include a spirited reading of Tommy Collins’ very funny “You Gotta Have a License,” the wah-wah-fueled truck-driving “Tore Down,” the Merle Haggard duet “I Haven’t Learned a Thing,” the corny ‘70s country-funk of “I’m Gonna Feed ‘Em Now,” and a pair of Dolly Parton bluegrass numbers, “Carolina Moonshiner” and “Mountain Music.”

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