Hi, there! This page is part of an opinionated guide to what I call "hard country" music -- the real stuff -- with a bunch of record reviews and recommendations by me, Joe Sixpack. Naturally, it's a work in progress, and will hopefully be expanded on quite a bit, as time allows.
This is the first page covering the letter "T"
Barry & Holly Tashian -- see artist discography
Hank Thompson -- see artist discography
It's funny: looking at all those old Webb Pierce albums, I always imagined he and Mel Tillis were best buddies, collaborating together on those rock-influenced honkytonk shuffles, along with Webb's songwriting secret weapons, Wayne P. Walker. Turns out, though, that Tillis was one of those woebegotten Nashville second-stringers whose work Webb would poach at will, rushing out his own versions of other people's songs (with the full weight of the Decca Records publicity machine behind him), and locking down the chart hit before the original artist's single could gather any steam. For Mel Tillis, it was definitely a double-edged sword -- Pierce's version of "I'm Tired" (poached from Ray Price) established Tillis as a popular songwriter, but Webb's subsequent preemptions put a stranglehold on Tillis's early hopes at a career as a star. If Webb always had a hit with the songs, how could Mel establish himself as a performer? This disc captures the drama of these formative early years, recording for Don Law and the folks at Columbia... Tillis tried tossing a lot of stuff at the wall, to see what would stick, there are plenty of teenpop tunes, penned for the Elvis Presley/Ricky Nelson crowd, adapted folk tunes, and even a few "historical" tunes, ala Johnny Horton and Claude King... But it's the honkytonk numbers that really stand out: Tillis's own versions of songs such as "No Love Have I," "Heart Over Mind" and "Tupelo County Jail" (which all show an interesting stylistic debt to George Jones...) Mel's singles mostly flopped, and it would be several years before he'd start to have hits, over on the Kapp label, and later on MGM... Still, his early work sounds fun today... This is a nice historical set, and a must-have for Tillis fans! (Available through the Collector's Choice mailorder website.)
Another one of Curb's swell sleeper reissues... Not exactly Tillis's "greatest" material, but a nice sampling of his later work on MCA, from the late '70s and early '80s, when he enjoyed some surprising success with material that ranged from deeply satisfying honkytonk material to bizarrely baroque crossover material. At any rate, this is a good collection of songs that would otherwise be lost from sight... Cheapie packaging is more than compensated for by the music itself.
Mel Tillis "Memory Maker" (Polygram, 1995)
A fine (though sadly out of print) selection of Tillis tunes from his early '70s years on MGM, when the hits really started coming. Some of these are re-recordings of songs he'd written years earlier: they benefit greatly from the punched-up production. Recommended! Can't wait 'til whoever owns these tunes nowadays brings out a new, comparable collection.
One of the great old pioneers of Texas honkytonk, Floyd Tillman was a honkytonk legend's honkytonk legend, an expressive and compelling singer, as well as the guy that Willie Nelson looked up to when he was starting out as a songwriter. Tillman's musical style was profoundly understated and influential. Half Ernest Tubb, half Bing Crosby, Tillman made the most of an unremarkable voice, blending his froggy tones with curlicued jazz phrasings that were seldom heard in the boozy honkytonk of the late 1940s. He was also the kind of singer who pours heartfelt delivery into the most maudlin lyrics, with impressive results. His waltz-time weeper, "I Love You So Much It Hurts" is one of the most sincerely melancholy ballads ever written; though released in 1948, it still holds a real wallop for the unsuspecting modern-day listener. Tillman also helped stretch the lyrical boundaries of country music: "Slippin' Around" was one of the first honkytonk songs to deal openly and sympathetically with the subject of adultery. In the 1950s, as slick-sounding Nashville took over country music, Tillman was left by the wayside, and by and large his music has languished out of print for decades. This new CD, with 24 tracks, greatly expands on the scarce Best Of and Columbia Historic Edition LPs which came out in the '70s and '80s. It's a treasure trove of the best that country music has to offer -- highly recommended!
Out of print, but well worth looking for, this collection includes material from Tillman's 1939-1944 stint on the Decca label... In his early years he wasn't as soulful or as croony as he got later on, and his style is still very close to that of to Ernest Tubb. He's still hella cool, though, and still one of honkytonk's great neglected artists. If you see this collection, snap it up.
A 6-CD box set on Bear Family, covering Tillman's work from 1936-1961... Yummy!! (PS - if you're wondering what to buy me for Christmas...)
Floyd Tillman "Country Music Hall Of Fame: 1984" (King, 1999)
Merle Travis -- see artist discography
A compelling set of good, old-fashioned, independently produced honkytonk shuffles, very much in the tradition laid down by Ray Price, Carl Smith and Charlie Walker. A stalwart of the Texas indie scene, Trevino is a notably imperfect singer (he's got a lisp and tendency to flub some of his phrasing), but he really throws himself into the material and carries the day with the lyrics, particularly on upbeat heartsong faves such as "Brand New Mister Me" and "I'll Sign The Papers." His pal Johnny Bush duets on a couple of tunes, and co-produced the album; Trevino's band totally rocks, particularly the twin fiddles and steel guitar players. Worth checking out!
Justin Trevino "Loud Music And Strong Wine" (Neon Nightmare, 2000)
The good, old-fashioned Texas shuffle is alive and well in the work of this indie-oriented Panhandle troubadour. His musical leanings place him in the neighborhood of Ray Price and Carl Smith, while his light voice and slight lisp give him an imperfect charm not unlike that of Hank Locklin or Freddy Fender. Not bad company at all!
Justin Trevino "The Scene Of The Crying" (Lone Star/TMG, 2002)
Justin Trevino "Too Many Heartaches" (Heart Of Texas, 2004)
Justin Trevino "More Loud Music And Strong Wine" (Heart Of Texas, 2005)
Justin Trevino "Before You Say Amen" (2006)
An all-gospel offering...
Ernest Tubb - see artist discography
What a ton of fun this is! One of the hottest (and peppiest) western swing bands of the time, this San Antonio outfit also had a way with saucy novelty songs, and a real sweet-tooth for jazzy arrangements... With over two dozen tracks and nice sound quality, this disc is a darn fine way to spend your hard-earned sheckels. Also, check out Joe Barnes' trademark trick banjo playing -- hwere he plays so fast that the notes start to blur and distort chromatically -- a technique used on "Sarah Jane" and several other tunes. High-powered pickin' and hilarious story-telling. HIGHLY recommended!!
This isn't the greatest hillbilly boogie record ever, but it sure is authentic... Zeb and Zeke Turner (aka William and James Grishaw) were two of the iconic hillbilly artist of the post-WWII era; they recorded as a duo and as solo artists in the rollicking pre-rock "hillbilly boogie" scene, and worked prolifically as session guitarists for many of the rising honkytonk stars of the '40s and '50s. On his own, Zeb was a rough-hewn, bluesy performer, in the mould of Merrill Moore and Ernie Ford, as well as jump blues shouters like Wynonie Harris and Louis Jordan; while Turner's vocals never catch fire the way the African-American singers did, his recordings tended to have wild instrumental fillips in the background that kept them from a more marketable, streamlined sound, but also hinted at a wilder, irrepressible side, the kind of kooky amped-up country that would feed into the early rock'n'roll sound. (Giving Turner his "rock pioneer" props, check out "Jersey Rock," recorded in 1953... Bill Haley, watch out!)
Johnny Tyler "Swingin' And Rockin' Western Style" (Bronco Buster)
A colossal set of boogie-inflected, mid-1940s honky-tonk from this nasal Arkansas shouter. This disc is a revelation: why does NOBODY know about or talk about this guy?? Tyler bears a strong vocal resemblance to Lefty Frizzell, though arguably Tyler was a more forceful, dynamic singer. And his band, with tight fiddle/steel/guitar riffs laid over a thumping, goodtime-y bass, makes every song on this disc a treat. Definitely one of the strongest releases in the Binge Disc catalog -- not to be ignored!
Fabulous post-WWII California country -- not quite as amped up as hillbilly boogie, though also not as static as some of the pre-war honkytonk. Tyler is often remembered as a "one-hit wonder," since most folks only know his classic, "Deck of Cards" from 1948. The tracks on this collection all predate that chestnut, and reveal Tyler as a compelling, expressive performer. Includes some mildly raunchy numbers, and some gospel and sentimental numbers, too --- a highlight is his version of "Rough and Rocky," a song recorded decades later by Emmylou Harris. Yet another awesome Binge Disc release bringing to light the work of another artist left by the wayside of country music history.
T. Texas Tyler "The Best Of T. Texas Tyler" (Collector's Choice, 1998)
T. Texas Tyler "T. Texas Tyler" (Collector Records, 2003)
T. Texas Tyler "T. Texas Tyler" (King, 1959)
Country gospel with a rollicking beat, a nice hillbilly twist on the genre -- none of the syrupy, watered-down, well-behaved poppiness that plagued so many other country Christian records. Tyler tears the house down with rambunctious revival-style rave-ups like "You've Got To Live Your Religion" and "Didn't They Crucify My Lord." Even the slower numbers have plenty of backbeat and slinky steel guitars; this is a for-real country record, fun to listen to, even aside from the religious content. If ya ask me, this is really the way to get folks fired up about their religion -- make it fun! Good record... recommended!
Hick Music Index