Buck Owens & The Buckaroos – Second of 3 Reissues from Omnivore
Your Mother’s Prayer/ The Kansas City Song/ I Wouldn’t Live in New York City
This, the 2nd reissue of 3 scheduled by Omnivore Recordings of vintage Buck Owens LPs. The first of the 3 late August releases is a bit more gospel than most Owens efforts. Many artists saw the success Elvis had with gospel releases (he was awarded Grammys for his gospel LPs). For Buck, it would be natural.
The late Buck Owens (Alvis Edgar Owens, Jr.) was a Sherman, Texas-born, Bakersfield, CA raised country singer who scored 21 #1 Country Chart Hits in a 61-year career. Inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in ‘96 & The Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame he was country music royalty until the day he died (2006) & he was scheduled to perform the day before he passed.
This second set of 3 reissues is scheduled to drop on Aug. 27 (Omnivore) with the 1970 11-cut, 27-minute Your Mother’s Prayer. One of Buck’s most coveted LPs. As usual, the original label Capitol Records must have sent Owens in with the finest producer, engineer & studios. Even if you’re not a country fan the impeccable recordings are pristine, & the new remastering has now polished them to a clarity that makes them even more distinctive.
“In God I Trust,” is heavy on the religious approach. Buck’s voice is filled with sincerity, depth & affirmation. Impressive set. His take on “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder,” & “Lonesome Valley,” are impeccably rendered, well performed pieces. Nothing hokey.
Buck Owens has always been a precise musician with an evolving group of musicians. “Your Mother’s Prayer,” like previous LPs was originally produced by Ken Nelson. Buck (vocals/guitar), Don Rich & Al Bruneau (guitar/National guitar), Doyle Holly & Jelly Sanders (guitar), Tom Brumley & Jay Dee (steel guitar), Bob Morris & Red Wooten (bass), Jerry Wiggins (drums/tambourine), with piano by Earl Poole Ball, a 5-member string section, with Kate Warren & Billy Wright on fiddles.
Another 1970 release was The Kansas City Song (Another Ken Nelson produced 10-cut, 26-minute — lean LP. It also went top 10 on the country charts. The upbeat, title cut climbed to #2 on the charts & began a period of Buck’s city songs. It led to his third LP of the reissue series I Wouldn’t Live In New York City. All songs on the Kansas set were either written by Buck or co-written with Red Simpson.
Buck’s tonality & phrasing never abandon him. He’s consistent with song quality though he’s embedded in pure country traditions. By these collections it was clear Buck developed a style of his own – beyond comparison with peers.
“I’d Love To Be Your Man,” & “Amsterdam,” are excellent country-pop songs. There’s little showboating on a Buck Owens LP. Everyone plays proficiently, but always remain just outside the spotlight. The focus is on Owens’s vocals & the songs. “Black Texas Dirt,” is an assertive, beautiful Owens’s story-song with wonderful acoustic guitar & narration framing it. It’s obvious Owens was having fun by “Full Time Daddy,” – his voice reeks of happiness & a prominent steel guitar.
The band on this is primarily the same as always: Buck (vocals/guitar), Don Rich & Al Bruneau (guitar/National guitar), Doyle Holly & Bill Sampson (guitar), Tom Brumley & Buddy Emmons (steel guitar/dobro), Doyle Curtsinger & Bob Morris (bass), Jerry Wiggins (drums/drumsticks on guitar), with Susan Raye (duet vocal), piano/celeste/electric harpsichord by Earl Poole Ball. Jim Shaw (piano), Jerry Haskell (Moog), The Blossoms (backing vocals). Two separate string sections.
A 3rd 1970 release produced by Ken Nelson: I Wouldn’t Live In New York City came about the same year. A 10-cut 30-minute LP that reached #12 on the country charts. By this time Buck had hit his 38th Top 10 country song of the decade this LP was cooking. Jim Shaw became a full-member & the youngest Buckaroo on electric organ/harmonica/piano.
For an artist to release 3 LPs in a single year of this quality is actually commendable. Though the running times are lean. Back in those days I think Capitol only allowed about 15 minutes per side. Something to do with sound quality on vinyl. Owens must’ve had a talent for creating a backlog of quality songs as he went along. I suspected that many artists insured their output by always recording more songs than required. Especially if a particular session was so successful. Record potential singles not for albums etc. Capture that lightning in the bottle. If you only needed 10 songs, record 15. An easy way to create a new LP if you get writer’s block — without having to do much work. It’s in the can, if it was good material.
So, with his city motif in full swing Owens issues a classy LP cover with some compelling song titles. It’s challenging & brave with the title song clever. It’s not as novelty oriented as say “Okie from Muskogee,” & won’t win any Big Apple fans. Owens sings with sincerity. He doesn’t necessarily bad mouth NYC it’s just a country-boy observance about why he couldn’t live in the big city. Any big city. Towards the end his harmonica player is intercepted by a metropolitan police car siren almost in the same key. Nice touch. The one time an added effect worked.
The LP suffers just a bit when the producer felt it necessary to add effects. These songs were snazzy enough without gusts of wind blowing, a rodeo crowd cheering, car horns blaring, Big Ben tolling, astronaut dialogue etc..
I guess the charm of Buck’s vocals is primarily in his relaxed manner which remains engaging. If you listen to Buck on “It’s a Long Way To London Town,” his intonation, phrasing is beyond what many country singers use. He obviously thinks his lyric through & on “Houston-Town,” a pleasant enough basic country tune Owens sings with an economy of twang & hokum.
Buck should have emphasized more harmonica in some songs because that instrument emphasizes Buck’s vocals beautifully when the harmonica player soars around him. On these songs the harmonica sounds tasty but hampered by the effects surrounding it. Not always, but sometimes.
The closer “Big in Vegas,” is cool. A bit saturated in strings but this was the common arrangement for country music at this time. The sound of conversations under the surface of the melody is understandably what you’d hear live. But on a record, it’s a distraction. Liberty Records in the early 60s was guilty of string saturation on many great records as well, primarily powerhouse vocalists like Timi Yuro (who sang with her friend Willie Nelson – “Did I Ever Love You?”) & did some of her own country-blues-spiritual songs like “Down in the Valley,” the masterful “Gotta Travel On”).
The newly issued Omnivore CDs are remastered & sound far superior to the samples posted. There is 1 more 3-CD reissue set expected Oct. 1 – 3 CDs from 1973-4 sessions.
Color photo of Buck Owens courtesy Omnivore Recordings. Reissue CDs: mastered from original analog tapes by Grammy-winner Michael Graves & reissue produced by Cheryl Pawelski. Available @ http://omnivorerecordings.com/buck-owens/