Return to the December 2000 A&E Preview Cover
Arts & Entertainment Preview - December 2000
B Y B O B B L U M E N T H A L &
Good Old Country Gold
Nobody sings better than Don Walser. Nobody yodels better than Don Walser. In 1984, after thirty-nine years of administrative work for the National Guard, Walser turned full-time to his passion for singing and began assembling his Pure Texas Band, which started releasing albums in the early nineties on a crusade to revive classic country music. Walser is not a nostalgia act but rather a purist arguing that people like Bob Wills and Hank Williams got it right, and that all these young singers who look like models in big hats and whose sound is barely distinguishable from rock and pop are getting it wrong. Indeed, he makes this point out loud on his latest CD, I'll Hold You in My Heart (Valley Entertainment): "If you listen to your radio all day long,/All you hear is the same fifteen or twenty songs./And if you're past thirty-five, you're considered to be too old./I wonder what happened to the good old country gold." With all forms of music today just a handful of programmers decide the playlists for vast radio chains aiming to appeal to advertisers who are obsessed with young people yet unformed in their buying habits. But Walser sings only one song about this—a polemic isn't the point—and he's careful not to insult fans of rock-and-roll or rhythm-and-blues. Mostly he brings his glorious voice to love songs free of irony and alienation: "When it's springtime in the Rockies/I'll be coming home to you,/Little sweetheart of the mountains/With your bonny eyes so blue." A shocking sentiment to be reviving in a time when so much popular music is performed as a striptease. But Walser means what he sings, and there will always be a market for sincerity. —C.M.Y.
The Soloing Masters
The appearance of Charlie Parker: The Complete Savoy and Dial Studio Recordings (1944-1948) (Savoy, eight CDs) hard on the heels of the similarly comprehensive and sonically improved Louis Armstrong: The Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings (Columbia/Legacy, four CDs) places two pinnacles of recorded-jazz history in proper monumental perspective. Armstrong was a twenty-four-year-old trumpet phenom who had already set New York on its ear when he returned to Chicago in 1925 and commenced a series of combo recordings for OKeh Records. Over the next three years titles such as "Cornet Chop Suey," "Struttin' With Some Barbecue," and "West End Blues" created a manifesto in rhythm and improvisational fertility that established the central role of the jazz soloist. The Hot Five and Hot Seven titles, plus recordings of related studio sessions, yield an eighty-nine-track portrait of an epoch-making artist at his peak. When Charlie Parker launched his own recording career, at roughly the same age as Armstrong had been, he renewed the language Armstrong had coined with alto-sax solos of more-complex rhythms and harmonies, and more-searing emotions. His quintet, which often featured Miles Davis's trumpet and Max Roach's drums, spread its classics (including "Now's the Time," "Embraceable You," "Parker's Mood," and "Scrapple From the Apple") between the Savoy and Dial labels. Countless reissues and numerous alternate takes have further jumbled this critical body of music, but the 217 tracks in the Savoy box finally allow it to be appreciated in toto. —B.B.
Bob Blumenthal is a jazz critic for The Boston Globe.
Charles M. Young reviews music for Playboy and other publications and for Allmusic.com.
Photo Credits—Instrumental: Stephanie Rushton. Don Walser: Valley Entertainment. Louis Armstrong: Columbia/Legacy, Charlie Parker: Savoy.
Copyright © 2000 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.