The Statler Brothers 'The Definitive Collection - MCA Years' / Tracy Byrd 'The Definitive Collection ' / Gary Allan 'Set You Free ' Humphead

Humphead is a UK based label that releases country albums originally released in the U.S. The albums are either a range of two for ones, compilations or recently released albums. Below are three such releases that span a time period from 1970 to 2013. 

The Statler Brothers are a vocal harmony quartet perhaps best know to some for their first hit Flowers on the Wall and it's use in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. TheStatlers were hugely popular in the U.S. and this collection draws together some 50 songs from 1970 to 1989 when they were with MCA Records. The songs are presented in a chronological order. Though long associated with country the Statlers always were closer to  mainstream crossover than honky-tonk. Yet a number of these songs take a down-home country theme that was integral to what was then considered country music. Their vocal prowess was always a distinctive well honed sound. 

Lead singer Don Reid was also a prolific songwriter who, along with other band members and co-writers, wrote the bulk of the material that The Statler Brothers recorded. There is a fair amount of humour involved as well as autobiographical songs including the story of working with Johnny Cash in the song We Got Paid by Cash. Other titles included How to be A Country Star and Let's Get Started If We're Gonna Break My Heart. This generous 50 track round-up includes four number ones and practically all of the featured songs made the top thirty with the bulk hitting the top ten. The sound is of another era but is not without a nostalgic charm that will appeal to those who know the band. They retired after a 2001 album and farewell tour so this collection serves as a handy reminder of their talents even if it doesn’t include Flowers on the Wall.  

Picking from where the previous collection ends is the music of Tracy Byrd. Byrd comes from Texas and is a deep voiced singer who obviously loved traditional country music and played it at a time when the music was making ruled by the likes of Garth Brooks and Clint Black. Tracy’s first single was released in 1992. That's The Thing About a Memory was a co-write by Byrd with Keith Stegal, producer of Alan Jackson. At the time, Byrd was considered fairly mainstream,  but by today's standards he is deep country. The twenty tracks here run from that first single to When Mama ain't Happy released in 1998. Funnily enough, after that first co-write his name is not attached to any of the other tracks, so he is largely known as a singer. He’s a good one too, his deep voice a lesson in old-school attitude and approach, a smooth, warm voice that could handle a ballad with ease. Witness Why Don't The Telephone Ring or I Wanna Feel That Way Again. Against that there is the dance floor movers of Lifestyles Of The Not So Rich And FamousThe First Step or 4 to 1 in Atlanta

Throughout there is an abundance of piano, pedal steel and twangy guitars that probably wouldn’t  stand a chance at country radio these days,  but serves as reminder of what mainstream country radio once was and what a good country song and singer is. Byrd could also be more soulful,  as on the Gary U.S. Bonds co-write Don't Take Her She's All I Got. In fact he could be summed up by the song I'm From The Country, which was co-written by singer Marty Brown, a song which sounds like a forerunner for the list songs that proliferate these daysThis collection is a fitting tribute to a solid singer who knows how to handle a song and knows how he wanted it tosound. Tracy Byrd's website shows no dates and his last album was released in 2006 on an independent label. One can only hope that he will return at some point with the music he so obviously loves, even if Music Row no longer does.

We come right up to date with the new release from Gary Allan. Set You Free is his 9th studio album following his debut Used Heart For Sale. It shows his path from the traditional styled country singer of 1996 to the hard edge rocker of 2013. This may be the direction he wants to take with his music or it may be accounting for the direction that country music has moved in the last few years towards a mix of either pop or more rock focused music. I have always liked Gary Allan and this is an album that may well find favour with his newer fans.

The last few albums Allan has released have been increasingly contemporary and have moved away from a traditional setting. The guitars are upfront and central to this album with Allen himself taking on the lead guitar role for several tracks. Set You Free would seem to be his ongoing perusal of his creative freedom. But then his music over recent times has tended to be a reflection of where his life is. His 2004 album Tough All Over was written following the suicide of his third wife, an event that he tried to work out in his music through recording and touring. 

Allan co-produces here with both Greg Droman and Mark Wright on different tracks and Jay Joyce also produces four songs. The sound is full with a strident rhythm section, swirling keyboards and no less than eight electric guitar players credited throughout. So while this won't excite the Dale Watson fans out there, it will fit right in with those who picked up on Allan’s more recent albums and those who like Brad Paisley or Dierks Bentley live. The songs are heartfelt and recognise that life is hard for many. There is though, a sense of hope in songs like One More Time, Every Storm (Runs Out Of Rain) or You Without Me. On the other side Hungover HeartTough Goodbye and It Ain't the Whiskey (the most obviously 'country' sounding song here) talks of pain, loss and drowning ones sorrows. 

No Worries adds a reggae-ish lilt and a sensuous backing vocal to the song’s positive title. Drop takes a different mid-paced direction with swirling keyboards. By using different players and producers, Gary Allan seems to want to ring the changes. This album, in context, is one of the best he has done in recent times and he has made the choice to bring his music to a place he seems more than happy to occupy.