Monday, July 02, 2007

After a 24-year absence, Porter Wagoner is back on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart with Wagonmaster. This gives Wagoner a chart span of over 43 years, the longest possible span, as he was on the very first country album chart (including singles, Wagoner has been on the charts since 1954).

And Wagonmaster is a great album. The centerpiece is "Committed to Parkview," written by Johnny Cash for Wagoner after learning they had both been patients at Parkview Psychiatric Hospital. Wagoner never recorded it before now, but Cash eventually sang it with Willie Nelson on the first Highwaymen album. Cash's version is okay, but feels a bit voyeuristic, a tad tawdry, perhaps. Wagoner's rendition has a much more personal feel, with him speaking as both an observer and a participant, and the final verse, with a resigned desperation seeping through his weathered voice, gives me chills.

You can download an MP3 of "Committed to Parkview" as well as the "Parkview" music video from Wagoner's Anti- website. And the album is available from eMusic. Solid effort all-around, and well worth purchasing. Reminiscent, surely, of Cash's first American recording, but not quite as spare. A nice mix of traditional honky-tonk, a touch of countrypolitan, and more simple arrangements like that heard on "Parkview."

As far as being a career-redeeming effort, like Cash's American Recordings, Wagoner was probably much more in need of an image makeover (as recently noted by Big Rock Candy Mountain). I know I'd mostly thought of him as the man who tried to hold back Dolly, and as the creators of a lot of '70s tripe, though his recording of "The Cold Hard Facts of Life" certainly encouraged me not to close the book on him too hastily (and that was before I'd seen the very special album cover that accompanied the song). So it's nice that Wagoner had the opportunity to put out this album, and regain a bit of the respect he deserved. But before this album came out, a new compilation CD, The Rubber Room, was already offering up evidence to support Wagoner's position as an artist "often ahead of his time who has always appeared hopelessly behind the times." Featuring songs like "The Cold Hard Facts of Life" and the titular track, another madhouse song, the album digs into some of his darker material, while honestly representing his career at it's peak. I haven't picked this one up yet, but from the tracks I'm familiar with, it seems like a solid compilation, well worth a purchase.

UPDATE: I've created a Porter Wagoner playlist on Imeem, focusing on the new album. I belive you will only hear 30-second previews, but that may change in the future.

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