Music Reviews

Swing West! Vols. I, II, and III

Various Artists

Razor & Tie

Swing West! is a three volume collection featuring many of the best Country and Western acts of the ’40s, ’50s, and early ’60s. Many of the artists featured on this collection are pointed to as some of the primary influences of those in the “New Traditionalists” movement that began in the late ’80s Country music scene with artists like Dwight Yoakum, Steve Earle, and Lyle Lovett. Each of these discs contains 20 songs organized according to a particular theme.

Volume 1, which is also the most current of the three, covers the Bakersfield sounds of Merle Haggard, Ferlin Husky, Joe Maphis, Jean Shepard, Rose Maddox, and more. At this point in time, Nashville had added strings and slick production techniques in an attempt to expand the audience for “Country” music. The Bakersfield artists, many of whom were from Oklahoma or Texas, remained truer to a more traditional style of country music, and carved out a pretty good niche among the fans of the Old-Style Country and Western Swing long after these styles had fallen out of favor. This one is probably my least favorite of the three, simply because a part of the “Bakersfield Sound” often seemed to be a kind of “tinny” sound, but it does have several excellent cuts on it that make it almost a must have. Red Simpson’s “The Highway Patrol” and “I’m a Truck” are latter-day trucker gems, as is the Joe Maphis and Rose Lee offering, “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (And Loud, Loud Music).” It’s also got a great very-early Ferlin Husky cut titled “Gone,” done while still under his original stage name of Terry Preston.

Volume 2, also titled “Guitar Slingers,” focuses on the offerings of guitar-legends such as Merle Travis, Les Paul, Speedy West, Jimmy Bryant, Tuts Taylor, and James Burton. The Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant cuts are all mighty-fine. “T-Bone Rag,” “Water Baby Blues,” and “Lover” were all new-found treats to me. My favorites are the Merle Travis cuts in various configurations. There’s Merle with Hank Thompson and his Brazos Boys, with “Wildwood Flower,” Merle with Joe Maphis, covering “Blast Off,” and just Merle, with “Merles’s Boogie Woogie” and “Cannonball Rag.” This is the rockingest of the three CD’s. These guys are counted among the virtusos of country guitar. They also had a heavy influence on rock and roll as we know it. James Burton contributed guitar to Dale Hawkins’ original “Suzy-Q,” and later served as Elvis’s lead guitar player for many years.

Volume 3, also titled “Western Swing,” is just what it says. It contains 20 fine cuts by the likes of Bob Wills, Spade Cooley, Merle Travis, Jack Guthrie, Tex Williams, Cliffie Stone, Hank Thompson, and several others. Standouts on this one include Spade Cooley’s “Oklahoma Stomp,” Tex Williams’ original version of “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette),” Leon McCauliff’s “Red Skin Rag,” Merrill Moore’s “Snatchin and Grabbin,” Ole Rasmussen and his Nebraska Cornhuskers rendering of “C Jam Blues,” as well as many others by Merle Travis and the others named above. This is my second favorite of the lot, but it could very well trade places with Volume 2 pretty soon.

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