Buck Owens 'Honky Tonk Man' & Don Rich 'Sings George Jones' - both Omnivore

Omnivore is a label founded by record industry veterans who specialise in limited editions and reissues. They also release some albums not previously issued for one reason or another. Two such items are these albums. The Buck Owens collection is taken from the songs he recorded  for the Hee Haw TV show, which were recorded at his studio in Bakersfield and included his current band and a Owens guide vocal. That vocal was removed when used in the show band with  Buck singing over the backing track.

However once in the studio Buck Owens never delivered a half-hearted vocal,  so these tracks are up to the standard of anything he released. It was quite a common thing for country artists of the time to play the hit songs of other artists for radio and TV shows,  as well as in concert. Here we have Owens and his band delivering the hits of Johnny Horton, Ray Price, Hank Williams, Webb Price and Waylon Jennings to name but five of the fifteen artists covered in this collection. 

You could spend time individually comparing theses versions against the originals,  but that would seem somewhat churlish as you pretty soon get into the swing of this and it becomes another throughly enjoyable Buck Owens and the Buckaroos album that stands up on its own. They make these songs sound like they were recorded first by the band,  such was the strength of the sound they created together.

An important part of the band as a instrumentalist and harmony vocalist for Owens was Don Rich,  his friend and alter ego. When Rich was killed in a motorcycle accident it took the wind from Buck’s sails to say the least. Sings George Jones was recorded in The Buck Owens studio and features Rich, Jana Jae, Doyle Curtsinger, Jerry Wiggins, Jim Shaw, Jerry Brightman and Buddy Alan Owens. It was intended as Rich's first solo album but for one reason or another was shelved.

As with Buck Owen's album there is the obvious dichotomy of a musician who was not even the lead singer in the band taking on a vocalist who was considered the best in the business by many. That misses the point to a degree; yes Don Rich is not George Jones in the vocal stakes,  but he has a strong enough voice to give these songs their own take. If you ever wondered how these well known songs  - The Race Is On, The Window Up Above, White Lightening or Walk Through This World With Me -  might sound done the Bakersfield way,  well then look no further. 

The ten track album is enhanced by four further recordings of the band with Buck Owens taking the lead vocal on Jones songs recorded again for the Hee Haw show. Two The Race Is On and Too Much Water are common to both singers.

If you, like me, are a Buck Owens/Bakersfield fan then these two albums will be a welcome addition to a collection. If you're a George Jones' fan you may not be able to get past the originals,  but I think that may be your loss. Either way the race is on.

Other recent releases from Omnivore include reissues of essential albums from Townes Van Zandt that include The Late Great Townes Van Zandt that has some of his best know songs such as Pancho & Lefty and If I Needed You. High, Low and In Between , To Live Is To Fly, Mr. Mudd and Mr. Gold. All Townes Van Zandt albums are important and these two are among his best.

The label has also compiled selections of classic country artists like Wanda Jackson The Best Of The Classic Capitol Singles. If you aren't acquainted with this innovative woman's country sides, as opposed her more lauded rockabilly tracks,  then this is a welcome introduction to an iconic artist. There are other important artists here in the series which includes Merle Haggard The Complete '60s Capitol Singles. Again this is a superior collection of some of his most vital recordings including Mama Tried, Silver Wings, Workin' Man Blues, The Bottle Let Me Down and, of course, Okie from Muskogee. There a George Jones set The Complete United Artist Solo Singles that features songs from the period he was produced by Pappy Daily which may be not as well known as his Billy Sherrill produced output, but none-the-less well worth having. By this time Jones was finding his own voice and developing his distinctive style with songs like The Race Is On and She Thinks I Still Care.

A lot of people who consider themselves fans of classic country may well already have these tracks in their collection but these well-packaged and presented sets are still essential albums for newcomers and those who would like these selections on a single disc.