The 15 country albums you need
The country-music boom has touched off an explosion of reissues and best-of collections. Maybe you’re enthusiastic about contemporary country and would like to listen to more of its history, but you don’t know where to begin. Here are 15 current releases that define the form-a basic library, a hall of fame of homeyness, heartbreak, hard living, and high times.
Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys
An impeccable summation of, as those dates imply, a vast body of work. Fiddler and bandleader Bob Wills brought an insouciant, jazzy rhythm to country music — that’s why they called it Western swing — and it reaches witty heights on jaunty yet urgent tunes here, such as ”Roly-Poly,” ”Take Me Back to Tulsa,” and ”Right or Wrong.”
40 Greatest Hits
This is, ahem, It: the wellspring of modern country music. Williams was the source of inspiration for more of today’s whippersnappers than any other performer. On songs like ”Your Cheatin’ Heart,” ”I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” and ”Why Don’t You Love Me,” Williams’ plaintive moan is scarily intense; sorrow, rancor, regret, and despair commingle in the best downer music ever made. He wrote ‘em, he sang ‘em, he lived ‘em: Dead at 29 in 1953, Williams left this legacy.
The Patsy Cline Story
The recent Cline boxed set included virtually everything she ever recorded, but all you really need is this 1963 double-cassette/single-CD collection, which includes all her hits (”Crazy,” ”Walkin’ After Midnight”) as well as ample proof of Cline’s originality. She phrased like a pop singer — comparisons to Rosemary Clooney and Patti Page are not unwarranted — but placed her vocals in a dreamy, lilting country context. At her best, the result was sublime: pure sexy melancholy.
The Best of Lefty Frizzell
As the owner of an eight-record, German- import boxed set of Lefty LPs, I’m not rational on this subject — Frizzell’s keening tenor, with its octave-jumping gulps and half-yodels, is an immense pleasure. This concise 14-song collection (18 on CD), mostly from the ’50s, is the place for you to start, since it includes his most chipper songs (”Shine, Shave, Shower,” ”If You’ve Got the Money I’ve Got the Time”) as well as his bleakest (”Always Late (With Your Kisses),” ”The Long Black Veil”).