On The Honky Tonk Highway With Jeannie C. Riley

Bear Family Records have released a brand new compilation featuring country and gospel music’s Jeannie C. Riley. Tell The Truth and Shame the Devil: On the Honky Tonk Highway with Jeannie C. Riley is the first in a new series by Bear Family to feature hard-hitting country artists of the 1960s and 70s. Does such a collection on Ms Riley bode well for this prospective series?

Best known for her 1968 smash crossover hit Harper Valley PTA, Riley began in country music, graduating to gospel in the mid-1970s. Honky Tonk Highway provides a taste of both. The flavours are nevertheless mainly country ones, reflecting contemporary tastes in music. The gospel side of Riley’s career is perhaps reflected most subtly at this point in the moral tone of some of the song choices, as with numbers such as Good Enough to be Your Wife and The Tree of Joy.

When listening to this compilation, it is no surprise to read the accompanying booklet and see so many familiar names in the session information provided. The backing here is like a Who’s Who of Nashville session men of the day. There is little wonder then that every track feels like top-shelf material. Even when a song pales into the crowd a little, Riley’s voice and delivery along with the instrumentation inject life and energy.

There is plenty here that is clearly patterned after Harper Valley PTA in tone, perhaps hoping to exploit that success before tastes moved on, but this is balanced with punchy Loretta Lynn style numbers like That’s A No No, or the tender Teardrops on Page 43.

You don’t have to be a fan of Ms Riley to enjoy this disc: it is full of the sound of the moment. It evokes images in the mind of all of Riley’s contemporaries, glitzy collages depicting Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette, Jerry Reed, Merle Haggard, Charley Pride, Mel Tillis, Lynn Anderson, Sammi Smith… But equally, there are enough echoes of Ernest Tubb, Hank Snow, Minnie Pearl and Kitty Wells to ground this music in its rich past and give it that pleasing full-bodied feeling that many devotees of country music may covet.

Sound Quality

The quality of the reproduction of sound here is second to none; the source material is clearly well kept and the transfers reflect this. The era’s very particular style of stereo mixing is well represented here, with every element clearly discernible, yet well blended and balanced.

A Little Something Extra…

The booklet included here contains very extensive liner notes, including artist biography; detailed information on the songs, track by track; as well as photographs mainly of the period matching the music within.

The artwork design of this new series marks a change in style for Bear Family Records. It feels like a determined step towards a definite and distinctive series.

Tracklisting

  1. Harper Valley P.T.A
  2. Tell The Truth And Shame The Devil
  3. The Girl Most Likely
  4. The Little Town Square
  5. The Back Side Of Dallas
  6. Things Go Better With Love
  7. Country Girl
  8. Duty Not Desire
  9. Good Enough To Be Your Wife
  10. Oh Singer
  11. Darling Days
  12. Roses And Thorns
  13. I Almost Called Your Name
  14. Satan Place
  15. Light Your Light (And Let It Shine)
  16. Am I That Easy To Forget
  17. In A Moment Of Weakness
  18. The Tree Of Joy
  19. Teardrops On Page 43
  20. The Cotton Patch
  21. Shed Me No Tears
  22. Before The Next Teardrop Falls
  23. One Toke Over The Line
  24. The Street Singer
  25. I’ll Take What’s Left Of You
  26. No Brass Band
  27. That’s A No No
  28. We Were Raised On Love
  29. Yesterday All Day Long Today

Conclusion

Standing alone, Tell The Truth and Shame the Devil: On the Honky Tonk Highway with Jeannie C. Riley is a very strong compilation. It represents a very particular moment in country music. It was growing into itself again after managing to integrate somewhat into popular music. After becoming a little watered-down in the early 1960s, some of the more raw and rootsy elements were returning in small increments, which is reflected here in the subject matter and the style of the arrangements and instrumentation.

While as the opener of a new series, it is very exciting. This particular reviewer is looking forward with enthusiastic anticipation to hearing the offerings to follow, with the 1960s and 70s in Nashville country music being my specialist area of musical interest. The fire, passion, realism, energy and bite in Country music in this era is electric and engaging, so yes please Bear Family!

Tell The Truth and Shame the Devil: On the Honky Tonk Highway with Jeannie C. Riley is available from Bear Family Records.

On The Honky Tonk Highway With Jeannie C. Riley

10

Rating

10.0/10

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