Nine classic records are making their digital and CD debut
Omnivore continues their association with the Buck Owens’ Estate by reissuing a whopping nine Owens’ albums, spanning 1968-1974. Each set comes with an essay from Owens’ biographer Randy Poe, with excerpts from the autobiography Buck ‘Em. Also included in each booklet are photos, trade magazine ads, vintage fan club applications and other rare goodies. This era spans the time right before and while he was a host of the popular variety show, Hee Haw.
After immersing in these reissues, that’s the first word that comes to mind. Buck Owens was driven like no other artist. In 1968, he issued no less than FOUR albums, with the majority of the songs written or co-written by Owens. He was also touring and owned his own management company and was developing other artists. Oh, he was also a hit star on television. Whew!
With all this activity, you might think that the quality of these recordings is sub par. No way. Each one of these albums has some merit, and many of them stand alongside his finest work. Above all, you see that Buck was obsessed with how his songs did on the Country charts – if it didn’t go Number One, it was a failure. Here’s our notes from each individual album:
Sweet Rosie Jones (1968)
Leads with “Hello Happiness, Goodbye Loneliness,” the kind of catchy song that Owens could write in his sleep. “Sweet Rosie Jones” is a classic tale of love gone wrong, complete with a spoken last verse. One of the few songs that Owens didn’t write here is “Swinging Doors.” Of course done by former Buckaroo Merle Haggard. But, Buck’s version is more subdued, and less rockin’ Another great one is “You’ll Never Miss the Water (Til the Well Runs Dry)” featuring great harmonies and steel guitar. “Sally, Mary and Jerry” is a great take on gossip. I like the clever use of handclaps that help bridge the different parts of “How Long Will My Baby Be Gone,” while “Leave Me Something to Remember You By” is a great tearjerker. Another highlight is “The Girl on Sugar Pie Lane.” The album closes with “Happy Times Are Here Again.”
I’ve Got You on My Mind Again (1968)
Part of Owens’ signature sound was how he boosted the high frequencies, check out the way the piano sounds on the leadoff title track. “Let the World Keep on a Turnin” features guest vocals from Buck’s son, Buddy Alan, Another great sad one is “Don’t Let True Love Slip Away.” Another duet is “I’ll Love You Forever and Ever,” with its signature, high energy tempo. There are a few cringe-worthy moments – Owens is a little creepy on “Love is Me” – he just overdoes the vocals. But, I love “Alabama, Louisiana or Maybe Tennessee.” This also marked the first time in a long while where Owens approved background vocals, done by the legendary Jordanaires and Anita Kerr Singers.
Tall Dark Stranger (1969)
The album has a Spanish overtone with the guitar. It’s interesting because this sounds more like a Marty Robbins record from the early Sixties than a typical Owens’ album. The Tall Dark Stranger was first introduced on the song, “Sweet Rosie Jones.” Owens decided to revisit this mysterious gentleman. I like how the background vocals echo “danger” – a very classic, Western-style element. “There’s Gotta Be Some Changes Made” has some great harmonies and pedal steel. The finest track here is “White Satin Bed,” where Owens’ vocals really shine. It’s a tale of a poor man who’s looking forward to lying in a casket, because it’s the first time he’s ever slept somewhere comfortable. “Darlin,’ You Can Depend on Me” revisits the fast/slow/fast tempo changes first introduced on his hit, “Before You Go.” Owens would try just about anything in a country song, take the waltz tempo of “Hurtin’ Like I’ve Never Hurt Before,” or the strings, brass and a large vocal ensemble of the final song, “But You Know I Love You.”
Your Mother’s Prayer (1970)
Owen’s second foray into Gospel music, this album was also the first to not hit the Country charts, ending a seven year run. Perhaps the overexposure of his weekly appearance on Hee Haw was taking its toll? Despite its relative commercial disappointment, there’s still a lot of great material here. I really like the harmonies of Owen’s original, “The Great Judgement Day.” Earl Poole Ball contributes some great piano work, heard prominently on “That Old Time Religion,” but is sprinkled throughout the entire album. He does an interesting take on “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder,” I like the way the steel guitar echoes the chorus, “bah, bah-bah.” There’s some tasty fiddle that drives “That Lonesome Valley,” while “That Sunday Feeling” might as well be a secular song, it’s sung with the same fervor as his hits. “My Savior Leads the Way” is fueled by a bouncing bassline. Overall, a pretty solid listen. And, the booklet reprints Owen’s mom’s original prayer to him.
The Kansas City Song (1970)
The title song is a little too sugary, with a glutton of background vocals, and a goofy organ. One by one, the original Buckaroos were exiting, and the accompaniment sounds a little less cohesive on this one. There’s more songs about places, like “(It’s a Long Way To) Londontown,” “Amsterdam,” and “The Wind Blows Every Day in Oklahoma,” but nothing really stands out. Better is the waltz tempo of “Black Texas Dirt,” and the instrumental “Scandinavian Polka” is good fun. Things finally catch fire on “You Can’t Make Nothin’ Out of That But Love” – Owens finally sounds energized here, and I really like the bridge where everything drops out but the drums and bass. And the goofy minstrel number, “Full Time Daddy,” wasn’t going to help him regain any credibility.
I Wouldn’t Live in New York City (1970)
Owens continued his fascination with doing songs about places, but the title song was better than anything on his previous album. There’s a great story about what inspired the song in the liner notes. And, talk about authentic – he recorded his lead vocal, right there on the streets of Manhattan! (you can hear a police siren right near the end). He chose to add sound effects to every song, adding casino sounds to “Reno Lament,” but sometimes they’re just too distracting, like the train effects on “Down n New Orleans,” or the cattle sounds on the revamped “The Kansas City Song.” He also retooled songs from previous albums – “The Wind Blows Every Day in Chicago” was actually “Oklahoma,” while “Amsterdam” became “Houston Town.” The best song is saved for last – the heartfelt “Big in Vegas” – it became Owens’ biggest song in quite some time.
In the Palm of Your Hand (1973)
His best album in several years, this record is full of great songs. It also featured his final number one hit, the fantastic “Made in Japan,” a clever recording full of Farfisa organ and guitars that give it an Asian feel. But, that’s just the beginning. “Arms Full of Empty” is classic, upbeat Bakersfield goodness, while “Sweethearts in Heaven” is midtempo, driven by pedal steel. Another good example is “You Ain’t Gonna Have Ol’ Buck to Kick Around No More” – with a title like this, things could’ve easily fallen into parody, but Owens instead plays it straight and sincere, like his classic recordings. Everything here works, whether it’s the sad “Something’s Wrong” or the rockin’ “A Whole Lot of Somethin,’” everything is firing on all cylinders. “There Goes My Love” is another standout.
Ain’t It Amazing, Gracie (1973)
The title song is classic, upbeat Buck, complete with steel guitar and Don Rich harmonies. Some of the record plods along – “Long Hot Summer” just kinda lays there, while “She’s Had all the Dreamin’ She Can Stand” is slightly better, but “The Good Old Days (Are Here Again)” just doesn’t sound sincere. “You’re Monkey Won’t Be Home Tonight” is decent, but there’s something missing here. Things are a little too polished, and Owens’ voice sometimes is mixed too loud, like on “I Know That You Know That I Care.” “When You Come Back From Nashville” does have some fine harmonies. Actually, the best was saved for last. “When You Get to Heaven (I’ll Be There)” is spirited and good fun. The album is also significant for the inclusion of the original version of “The Streets of Bakersfield,” an LP cut that he’d later revisit in a duet with Dwight Yoakam.
It’s a Monster’s Holiday (1974)
The last album featuring longtime Buckaroo, Don Rich, who would pass away from a motorcycle accident before it got released, this record is still one of the better of his latter-day Capitol releases. Of note is the title song, which is good fun. I’m kinda surprised this doesn’t get played around Halloween. If it does, I’ve never heard it on the radio. Also notable is “On the Cover of the Music City News,” a rewrite of Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show’s “On the Cover of the Rolling Stone.” There’s some good cover tunes too – he does Tom T. Hall’s “I Love” and Charley Pride’s “Kiss An Angel Good Morning” – neither outdo the original, but they help keep the album interesting. “Great Expectations” is one of Owen’s best ballads from this period. Rich’s death would rob Owens of the man who provided all those unique harmonies on every single one of his hit songs, not to mention his impeccable guitar playing. Owens really never recovered after that. –Tony Peters