What's an country outlaw doing, singing a bunch of old pop standards? Creating a masterpiece, of course, with this 1978 album that's become a true classic. Willie Nelson has never been one to do the safe or expected, and this Booker T. Jones-produced album of pop standards from the '30s and '40s certainly fits the profile. It's also one of the better albums of Nelson's career, allowing Willie to dip his fragile, quivering tenor all around the beat in songs like "All of Me" and "Unchained Melody." Jones's organ, piano, and string arrangements are low-key and swinging (except on the almost wooden "On the Sunny Side of the Street"), and Nelson's vocals on "Georgia on My Mind" and "Moonlight in Vermont" are filled with a dignified and slightly jazzy country soul. The 1999 reissue adds a pair of bonus cuts to the mix, including the lullaby-like "Scarlet Ribbons" and the somewhat out-of-place "I Can See Clearly Now." --David Cantwell
Manufacturer: Sony Legacy
The legendary 1968 live concert, complete and uncensored! Johnny's at his best playing a gritty set of songs to the very appreciative, and very vocal, Folsom Prison inmates. Johnny Cash had been breaking new ground for a decade when At Folsom Prison suddenly made the world at large take notice. The interaction of a volatile prison population starved for entertainment and a desperately on-form Johnny Cash was electrifying. His somber machismo finally found a home. The songs, which included every prison song Cash knew ("I Got Stripes," "The Wall," "25 Minutes to Go," "Cocaine Blues," plus his own "Folsom Prison Blues") were tailored to galvanize the crowd. This set is all about atmosphere. Live at the Grand Ole Opry this ain't. The 1999 version drops the San Quentin portion of the original CD reissue, instead adding three cuts to complete the full and uncensored Folsom show. --Colin Escott
Manufacturer: Sony Legacy
The ultimate collection for the ultimate outlaw, 22 Top 10 country hits in one package, the finest single-disc collection ever! Includes Only Daddy That'll Walk the Line; The Taker; This Time; I'm a Ramblin' Man; Rainy Day Woman; Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way; Good Hearted Woman; Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love); Just to Satisfy You, and Mamma Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys with Willie Nelson; Are You Ready for the Country; I've Always Been Crazy; Don't You Think This Outlaw Bit's Done Got Out of Hand; Amanda; Come with Me; I Ain't Living Long Like This; Theme from The Dukes of Hazzard (Good Ol' Boys) , and more.
Loretta Lynn "Van Lear Rose" Produced and Arranged by Jack White of the White Stripes Garage-rock hero Jack White producing honky-tonk legend Loretta Lynn? And Lynn comparing him to renowned Nashville producer Owen Bradley? Yes, we all know the world is rapidly shrinking, but now we've seen everything. Most stunning of all--they nailed it. For the first time, Lynn has written all of an album's songs, and her lyrics are as cutting and incisive as ever. On the powerful, biting "Family Tree," she brings her babies to the home of her husband's mistress so that they can see the "woman that's burning down our family tree." Throughout she cunningly tackles tried-and-true honky-tonk themes of love gone bad, drinkin', cheatin', and murder. Lynn even offers a compelling slice of theological fatalism ("God Makes No Mistakes"). White's production--mostly stark and atmospheric--ranges from more-traditional country to straight-up White Stripes, with most tracks falling somewhere in between. White duets with Lynn on the rousing one-night-stand story "Portland, Oregon," but he does not need to sing to leave his personal stamp. At 70, Lynn seems thoroughly engaged and delighted; at times she delivers some of the most emotionally potent singing of her career. A decade earlier, Johnny Cash turned to rock and rap producer Rick Rubin, and the move resuscitated Cash's career. Now, Jack White has done the same for Loretta Lynn, another country legend whose music is simply too raw and honest for the contemporary country crowd. Van Lear Rose exceeds all expectations--a bold collaboration in which artists from two different musical universes forge a memorable work that neither could have created alone. --Marc Greilsamer
Manufacturer: Sony Legacy
Brand: The One
The only 2-CD collection to date to span his entire career, 36 tracks from Hey Porter to his collaboration with U2, The Wanderer . And in between? I Walk the Line; Get Rhythm; Ballad of a Teenage Queen; Big River; Ring of Fire; Guess Things Happen That Way; I Still Miss Someone; Don't Take Your Guns to Town; Daddy Sang Bass; A Boy Named Sue; It Ain't Me, Babe and Jackson with June Carter Cash, and more. It's a great and perhaps impossible challenge to encapsulate the highlights of Johnny Cash's vast musical catalog in a two-CD, 36-song collection like this. Yet, though it barely scratches the surface, 2002's The Essential Johnny Cash--part of a series of compilations and reissues celebrating Cash's 70th birthday--does present three-dozen satisfying and balanced snapshots of some of the Man in Black's most memorable work for the Sun, Columbia, and Mercury labels. Above all else, these 36 selections are wonderful reminders of Cash's rustic eclecticism. Cuts range from '50s Sun rockabilly classics like "Hey Porter" and "I Walk the Line" to '60s country-folk gems like "The Ballad of Ira Hayes" and Cash's memorable duet with Bob Dylan on Dylan's "Girl from the North Country." Also included are more recent samplings of Cash's celebrated collaborations, including "Highwayman," which he recorded in 1984 with Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson as part of the on-again, off-again supergroup the Highwaymen, and "The Wanderer," a fervent gospel collaboration with U2 that appeared on the band's 1993 album, Zooropa. --Bob Allen
This double-disc set is cross-licensed to include key tracks from 40 years of recording! Includes Night Life; Hello Walls; Me and Paul; Bloody Mary Morning; Funny How Time Slips Away; Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain; On the Road Again; If You've Got the Money I've Got the Time; Georgia on My Mind; My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys; Always on My Mind; Pancho and Lefty; Highwayman , and more. 41 tracks! With 41 tracks drawn from nine record labels, the two-disc Essential Willie Nelson is impressive in its breadth. Disc one is simply superb; it begins with 1961's "Night Life," recorded for the obscure Bellaire label, and moves on to several of Nelson's early 1960s Liberty recordings, an overlooked gem recorded for Monument in 1964 ("I Never Cared for You"), a cherry-picked selection of his RCA and Atlantic sides, and finally his mid-1970s hits for Columbia (where he found his greatest chart success, beginning, in 1975, with the No. 1 single "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain"). Disc two, however, is hit-or-miss. Classics like "On the Road Again," "Pancho & Lefty," and "Nothing I Can Do About It Now" are offset by such lesser material as "To All The Girls I've Loved Before" (recorded with Latin pop star Julio Iglesias), the phoned-in "City of New Orleans," and the sounds-better-on-paper "Highwayman" collaboration with Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, and Waylon Jennings. (Just because they all made it to No. 1 doesn't make them "essential.") Nelson's two best albums of the 1990s, Across the Borderline and Teatro, are represented by a paltry two songs. The disc ends with collaborations with U2, Lee Ann Womack, and Steven Tyler and Aerosmith (the previously unreleased "One Time Too Many"). None is particularly worthy of a best-of collection. Still, while it doesn't quite live up to its billing, the Essential Willie Nelson offers an excellent career overview of one of country music's true legends. --David Hill
Manufacturer: Shangri-La Music
Brand: Shangri-La Music
Twenty-two rock and country legends duet with Jerry Lee Lewis on this incredible package, celebrating The Killer's impact on American music. Among the luminaries igniting these all-new recordings of seminal rock 'n' roll are Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Willie Nelson, Toby Keith, Little Richard, Merle Haggard, Neil Young, and more. How do you drum up interest in a Jerry Lee Lewis record, since the Ferriday Fireball is 71 and hasn't put out an album since 1996? First, you pair him with 22 of the biggest stars of rock (Mick Jagger, Keith Richards), country (Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard), and blues (Buddy Guy, B.B. King), to show how he put his stamp on nearly every genre. Then, you hire the dean of music chroniclers, Peter Guralnick, to give the liner notes heft. And--oh, yes, you also make sure the piano-pounding pioneer displays the best finger form he's shown in 25 years. Throughout, the Killer crows, struts, and self-mythologizes with the brio of youth, and who could resist him? At times, one may question the wisdom of turning an obvious guitar tune (Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll") into a piano-dominated performance, just as it seems odd to not make the best use of such guests as Toby Keith or Delaney Bramlett. But Lewis never yields the throne for a second, even surrounded by the likes of Robbie Robertson, Neil Young, and Eric Clapton. For that reason, most of these aren't true duets--the star instrumentalists take their solos, and the harmonies of some of the most legendary vocalists (Don Henley, Little Richard) stay too far in the background. But when things really work--as they do with Bruce Springsteen (the rave-up "Pink Cadillac"), Neil Young (a crackling rendition of "You Don't Have To Go"), Kid Rock (an even blacker "Honky Tonk Woman"), George Jones (the novelty-framed "Don't Be Ashamed of Your Age"), and Kris Kristofferson (an especially poignant take on "The Pilgrim: Chapter 33"), the rock of ages cleaves for thee and me. Last Man Standing refers to the famous cover of Million ...
Manufacturer: Columbia / Legacy
THE outlaw country album, Red Headed Stranger's bare-bones sound was the perfect antidote to the glitzy Nashville Sound dominating the airwaves in the mid-'70s, and lent an understated majesty to this tale of a wandering preacher in the Old West. This deluxe version includes four bonus tracks-three unreleased!-plus the classic Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain . Though this 1975 album cost Willie only $20,000 to record, it handed him the success he'd craved after years as a hit songwriter and modestly successful singer. By blending originals and vintage material, he created a timeless Western saga, one that originally left Columbia Records, who'd guaranteed him artistic control, skeptical. The label's doubts, amplified by the fact that Nelson had recorded the album in Texas with only his seven-piece touring band, evaporated after the album and two singles, "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" and "Remember Me," became huge hits and launched Willie into the stratosphere. This enhanced version preserves the original sequence, adding four bonus tracks. One, a brief snippet of Bach's "Minuet in G" from the 1986 Red Headed Stranger film, is inconsequential. Three more, from the 1975 sessions, are enjoyable covers of Hank Williams's "I Can't Help It If I'm Still in Love with You," Bob Wills's "A Maiden's Prayer," and Pee Wee King's "Bonaparte's Retreat," footnotes to the original but welcome nonetheless. --Rich Kienzle
Manufacturer: Sony Legacy
Reissue of the mid-'70s outlaw country classic featuring Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter and Tompall Glaser, with original artwork, liner notes (from Chet Flippo) and nine "lost" tracks! Less successful when it's sentimental (Waylon Jennings' "My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys") than when it's wry (Willie Nelson's myth-puncturing "Me and Paul"), this cash-in compilation of previously released cuts was just in time to grab the first platinum record ever awarded a country album. It's not bad, but both Jennings' contemporaneous Dreaming My Dreams and Nelson's Red Headed Stranger are more nuanced tastes of the good-bad-but-not-evil-ol'-boy lifestyle. (Not to mention much of Tompall Glaser's own Outlaw compilation.) This 1996 CD reissue adds nine more tracks from the era as well as a new Jennings-and-Nelson version of Steve Earle's "Nowhere Road." --Rickey Wright
A national treasure in his native Canada and a timeless star Stateside and worldwide, legendary singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot first rose to fame in the mid-'60s when his compositions became hits for Peter, Paul and Mary ('Early Morning Rain') and Marty Robbins ('Ribbon of Darkness'). Both songs are featured on Rhino's newly remastered CD version of the artist's hits compilation Gord's Gold-a Top 40 Album-originally released in 1975 as a 2-LP set currently out of print. This in-depth overview of troubadour Lightfoot's famed Warner Bros. years provides an insightful portrait of an exemplary talent. Warner. 2005.