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Arts & Entertainment

Peter Stenshoel's album of the week: Four Kings of Country Music: George Jones, Roger Miller, Buck Owens, and Jimmy Dean

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These gentlemen all achieved great fame. This record shows them near the beginning of their respective careers, so you hear the energy of raw ambition and raw talent. There's not a bad track here, but three songs stand out.

Freight Train Blues, originally a hit record for Roy Acuff in 1939, is jazzed up in what I consider Country and Western's Baroque Period (this one dates to 1956), where ornamentation and inventive chordal inversions are every bit as important as the singer's delivery. And the singer delivers beautifully. Jimmy Dean, who would go on to host an influential TV show and become a sausage company mogul, pulls no punches here. A charming aspect of this arrangement is hearing snippets of Night Train, the rhythm and blues powerhouse blues vehicle, played here by country fiddles. Pay special attention to the way the steel guitar solo resolves itself. It virtually shouts mid-fifties cool.

My Pillow is not the usual fare for Roger Miller. Known for clever novelty numbers like Dang Me, Chug-a-lug, and King of the Road, Miller here is all tenderness and vulnerability. He sings about shedding tears of sadness, and his young man's voice evokes convincing pathos. Notice Roger's use of a slow yodel, and savor the empathic accompaniment from the master musicians by his side.

Seasons of My Heart is a poetic love song co-composed by George Jones. A very young Jones introduces it here with the benefit of old time accompaniment. Already, George's voice is firmly in control of the material, and he hints at the majestic sweep of what's to come in his career. Arguably the finest male crooner Country Music has produced, I see him as America's answer to the great Hindustani classical singers for the way he bends emotions with each quaver of his voice.

Thank you, Starday Records, for recording and releasing such authentic country music of the day.