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 second page covering the letter "A"
The Armstrong Twins "Mandolin Boogie" (Arhoolie, 1979/2004)
Killer-diller hillbilly music from the late 1940s, with Arkansas natives Floyd and Lloyd Armstrong taking the stripped-down bluegrass/old-timey sound of "brother duets" like the Blue Sky Boys and pushing it into an aggressive, driving style that prefigures the rockabilly sound of the next decade. The Armstrong Twins distinguished themselves from many of their hillbilly boogie contemporaries in several ways: first off, they were in the vanguard, a lot of the country boogie material dates from the early '50s, and their 1948-49 recordings predate the main deluge. Then there's their choice of instruments: led by an acoustic mandolin, rather than the classic honkytonk fiddle-and-steel sound that most hillbilly boogie artists built off of... Finally, there's the fact that they quite simply rocked! A lot of hillbilly boogie was kind of awkward and gangly, whereas the Armstrongs sounded perfectly at ease, rollicking and having lots of fun. It's an infectious sound: their mile-wide smiles are audible across the decades, and the picking is also top-notch. This CD reissue also includes several tracks recorded during a 1979 reunion session -- their voices don't have the same spark and fire as when they were young, but the music is played with great authority and compare quite favorably with similar stuff done by the Blue Sky Boys during their '60s and '70s sessions. Good stuff... a keeper, for sure!!
Eddy Arnold -- see artist discography
Charline Arthur "Welcome To The Party" (Bear Family, 1998)
A stellar collection of ultra-rare oldies by one of hard country's most elusive figures. Brassy, loudmouthed and a snarly, dynamic singer, Arthur demolished the traditional role of the passive, ladylike country "girl" singer. Back in the early '50s, when all the other gals were demurely performing in Kitty Wells-style gingham dresses, Arthur was wearing slacks, smoking cigarettes, and cussing Chet Atkins out in the RCA recording booth. It was probably the last habit that had the most to do with her swift fall from grace -- Arthur was dumped from the label in 1956, after having plugged away for several years without much commercial success. Admittedly, Arthur's bluesy, occasionally raunchy style was at odds with the expectations of the times, but it's a tragedy she wasn't allowed to grow as an artist -- her vocals and approach certainly prefigured the work of bluesy country/pop stylists like Patsy Cline and Brenda Lee, and (of course...) the rockabilly bop of Wanda Jackson. Notably, the singer whose voice most resembles Arthur is Skeeter Davis, who Atkins did succeed in taming -- you can hear similar attempts to soften and Nashville-ize Arthur's vocals throughout this disc. But uptempo or slowed down, Charline Arthur was a force to be reckoned with, and this CD should send a quiver through the hard country community -- check it out!
Clarence "Tom" Ashley "Greenback Dollar" (Rebel/County, 2001)
A top-notch set of blues-tinged old-timey music from this North Carolina guitarist. Many of these songs are now folk music standards, including the title track, which was one of the pivotal early hits for the late-'50s folk revival, when recorded by the Kingston Trio. In these original versions, Ashley's Depression-era recordings strike the perfect balance between the grimly morbid sensibilities of the old-time mountain music and the buoyancy of the emerging commercial country scene. He has an edge, yet avoids the psychotic intensity of Dock Boggs, who could also be considered a precursor to rock-style music. This is a great set, full of lively, good-humored performances and plenty of great tunes. Highly recommended!
Ernest Ashworth "Greatest Hits" (Curb, 1981)
One of Curb's nicest oldies reissues! Although this omits Ashworth's early Decca singles, but it's a real treat hearing all his best early '60s material from the Hickory label, back when he was regularly featured in the Country Top Ten. Ashworth had an odd, thin voice, not unlike Roger Miller's, and was entirely willing to blend his honkytonk shuffles with a little rock'n'roll bounce. Songs like "Talk Back Trembling Lips," "Pushed In A Corner," and "I Love To Dance With Annie" have a swinging cheerfulness about them, while weeper like "Because I Cared," "The DJ Cried" and "I Take The Chance" (a cover of a Louvin Brothers song) proved him to be a superior balladeer. If you like Roger Miller or Buck Owens, this is a disc well worth tracking down!
Ernest Ashworth "The Best Of The Best Of Ernie Ashworth: Talk Back Trembling Lips" (Gusto, 2004)
Ernest Ashworth "Hits Of Today And Tomorrow" (Hickory, 1964) (LP)
Both of Ashworth's original albums came in the wake of successful singles: this 1964 debut came after "Talk Back Trembling Lips" hit #1 (in the previous year). His LP from five years later gathered some of the singles that came afterwards, few of which cracked the Top Twenty.
Ernest Ashworth "The Best Of Ernie Ashworth" (Hickory, 1969) (LP)
Asleep At The Wheel - see artist discography
Bob Atcher & Bonnie Blue Eyes "The Tophand Of The Cowhands" (Binge Discs, 1998)
A delightful set of western tunes, soft heartsongs and lighthearted novelty numbers from the husband-wife duo of 1939-1946 Bob Atcher and Bonnie Blue Eyes (aka Loeta Applegate, who was married to Atcher until 1945, when they split the act. She retired, he went on the do a lot of TV and radio work in and around Chicago... ) Included is her parody/answer song, "Seven Beers With The Wrong Man" -- one of the first country hits by a solo female artists -- and his comedic version of "Thinking Tonight Of My Blue Eyes," along with sweet western standards such as "Cool Water" and Johnny Bond's "Poor Little Rose." It's all lovely stuff; understated and sentimental, and with sweet vocal harmonies. These recordings catch the duo at the peak of their commercial fame. Nice stuff... Recommended!
Bob Atcher & Bonnie Blue Eyes "The Golden Age Of Bob Atcher & Bonnie Blue Eyes" (Binge Discs, 1998)
Bob Atcher "Hunters Of Kentucky" (BACM, 2005)
Bob Atcher "Volume Two: Featuring Bonnie Blue Eyes And Randy Atcher" (BACM, 2012)
Chet Atkins - see artist discography
Gene Autry -- see artist discography
Hoyt Axton -- see artist profile
Hick Music Index