(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
I’ve always thought that Christmas is the perfect time to give music as a gift. It’s an expression of how much you know and appreciate the recipient’s love of music, as well as his or her taste in music. Here’s some stuff I’m buying for others and coveting for myself.
• Hank Williams Revealed: The Unreleased Recordings is the second three-disc release of his Mother’s Best radio shows from the early 1950s and is a welcome addition to his canon of work. These radio show recordings sound wonderful and bring the man to life in a way his studio recordings have not. The earlier volume is also available on LP. With that, it’s good to have new Hank material back on vinyl, where he belongs.
• Waylon Jennings got his start as this guy’s bass player. The Beatles got the idea for their group name and their sound from him. His guitar technique greatly influenced Pete Townsend of the Who, Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones and countless other musicians. His music fed rock, country, country-rock and Americana. He tried out in Nashville, recording with master producer Owen Bradley, but fortunately he and Nashville didn’t take to each other and his rock genius flowered. When Buddy Holly was killed in a plane crash in 1959, that was “the day the music died,” as Don McLean sang. There is finally a boxed set worthy of Holly’s name. The six-CD set, Not Fade Away: The Complete Studio Recordings and More, is a near-flawless Holly collection with 202 cuts. Maybe Santa Claus will bring this. The budget right now can’t go for a $100-plus music item.
• Taylor Swift‘s Fearless: Deluxe Platinum Edition. For certain young girls in my family circle, this is the ideal stocking stuffer. And I’ll keep a copy for me. Who can imagine what she will be doing a year from now?
• Rosanne Cash‘s The List is both a tribute to her late father and a strong testimony of some of the enduring songs that belong to us all. You know the story about when she was very young, Johnny gave her a list of 100 essential songs. She finally recorded some of them here in a very memorable way, and they are well worth your attention. She has been working on a memoir, and I look forward to that. And there is also a book tracing the development of The List, Michael Streissguth’s Always Been There: Rosanne Cash, The List, and the Spirit of Southern Music, that I will be reading through the holidays.
• Woody Guthrie should be in the Country Music Hall of Fame. He remains one of the sadly-underappreciated architects of American popular music. His compositions, such as “This Land Is Your Land,” “Hard Travelin’,” “Pastures of Plenty,” “Pretty Boy Floyd,” and “Worried Man Blues,” inspired country artists to write songs about the grit of real life. They have long been country and folk staples. Guthrie was also a major influence on Bob Dylan. There’s a new four-disc boxed set of some of Guthrie’s previously-undiscovered master recordings that had been abandoned in a storage area of a basement in Brooklyn, N.Y., for decades. They were cleaned up, and these 54 original recordings are now in the set, My Dusty Road. The fidelity of the sound of these recordings is astounding today, and the packaging, in a little vintage suitcase, is a nice touch.
• Elvis Presley‘s From Elvis in Memphis album in 1969 was a second big step in resuscitating his faltering career. The first step was his comeback NBC TV special in 1968. Then he returned to Memphis to get back to his musical roots of country blues and soul. Those sessions resulted in such hits as “Suspicious Minds” and “Kentucky Rain.” This Legacy reissue includes the original album cuts plus bonus tracks such as “Hey Jude” as well as the subsequent album, From Memphis to Vegas — From Vegas to Memphis (later reissued as Back in Memphis), that came from those same recording sessions. With a total of 36 tracks, the original singles from the first album are also included here in their original mono versions, just as they were first mixed. “In the Ghetto,” “Suspicious Minds” and “Kentucky Rain” never sounded better
• Jamey Johnson‘s That Lonesome Song on vinyl. I’ve got that album on CD, but I want to compare the sound on vinyl. Now that artists ranging from Johnson to John Mayer to Lady Gaga to Radiohead to Kings of Leon are being issued on vinyl, can Keith Urban and Taylor Swift be far behind? At Lawrence Record Shop in downtown Nashville (which has been here since 1954), I recently counted 45 different Willie Nelson LP titles on vinyl, 33 for Johnny Cash, 10 for Hank Williams and nine by George Strait.
For me, nothing looks better under the tree than colorful, big LP records. Imagine listening to big, warm non-compressed sound through speakers, instead of through ear buds. Others can also share the experience! And you can look at large photographs of the artist and read liner notes without the aid of a magnifying glass. Sales of vinyl are still not huge but are growing every year, and more artists are releasing LPs as well as CDs. And they validate the feeling by many music fans — in this age of transient downloads — that they want some permanence with their music, something to hold on to.