June 05, 2012
Bear Family Records
Country, Traditional Country, Honky Tonk, Bakersfield Sound

Album Review

Bear Family's final Buck Owens box set Tall Dark Stranger covers his last stint at Capitol Records -- the years 1969 through 1975, an era where his star shone brighter than ever thanks to his role as the co-host of the cornpone country variety show Hee Haw. Buck signed to Hee Haw in 1969 and the ramifications of television stardom were soon apparent: shelves needed to be filled with product and Buck & His Buckaroos were expected to be predictable, to give the people what they wanted...and to give a lot of it, to boot. Owens never was good at playing to people's expectations but he always was keen to make a buck, so the music on this generous box -- covering all of his solo recordings, sessions he had with Susan Raye, a vaguely embarrassing vaudevillian country comedy set with his son Buddy, and all the albums the Buckaroos recorded on their own -- is wildly inconsistent, finding Owens ready to push the boundaries of Buck music while being eager to satisfy the demand of the marketplace. Listening to these eight discs, the arc of his career is immediately apparent. At the outset, Owens is ready to experiment, to add all manners of sonic colors -- strings, sweetened backing vocals, anything that would have distracted from his driving freight train sound of the '60s -- and ready to tackle new songwriters like Paul Simon and Bob Dylan, eager to steer the Buckaroos toward a roaring bluegrass album called Ruby. He still was taking risks -- some of which never saw the light of day, like a revelatory duet with soul singer Bettye Swann -- and it was paying off, commercially and artistically, with the Buckaroos taking over the pandering through their albums which were either admirable genre exercises (a good collection of Merle Haggard covers) or bordering on easy listening. Then, Hee Haw happened. Soon, Buck was dialing back the adventure and adhering to his Bakersfield blueprint, cutting covers and novelties, shucking and jiving with Buddy, singing with Susan Raye, staying toward the middle of the road for the first time in his career. And then, his guitarist and lieutenant Don Rich died in a motorcycle accident and everything hit the skids. Buck kept up with Hee Haw -- he stayed there until the '80s, way past the point his songs actually hit the charts -- but he effectively checked out in the studio, never seeking out new sounds or songs, just riding out his contract. And all of this is evident on Tall Dark Stranger, a box that starts out strong and then gets bumpy, alternating between inspiration and pure product. Years have made the latter enjoyable if not necessarily compelling, particularly where the Buckaroos are concerned; their LPs are nothing more than professional shelf-filler, delivered by what arguably was the best band in the business. And the business that his music leaves the greatest impression on is this, the final act of Buck Owens' glorious peak: he made his name as a maverick but even he was ground down by the demands of the machine, who did not care for creativity or tragedy. It is a testament to his talent that even in the face of considerable commercial demands and personal tragedy, Owens continued to give the people what they wanted: perhaps it wasn't as brilliant as his best, but it was certainly enjoyable, as each of these eight discs prove to some extent.
Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Track Listing

  1. Tall Dark Stranger
  2. I've Got a Happy Heart
  3. Somewhere Between
  4. Just a Few More Days
  5. Lonesome Valley
  6. My Savior Leads the Way
  7. But You Know I Love You
  8. Today I Started Loving You Again
  9. I'm a Natural Loser
  10. The Biggest Storm of All
  11. If I Had You (By My Side)
  12. Down at the Corner Bar
  13. Nobody But You
  14. Lay a Little Light On Me
  15. Catfish Capers
  16. Bossanova Buckaroo Style
  17. Sweet-T-Pie
  18. Roll Your Own
  19. When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder
  20. That Old Time Religion
  21. Big in Vegas
  22. Love Is Strange
  23. Cinderella
  24. I'll Be All Right Tomorrow
  25. Hurry Come Running Back to Me
  26. Ensenada
  27. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
  28. Take Care of You for Me in Kansas City
  29. One More Time
  30. Goin' Home to The Bayou
  31. Country Pickin'
  32. Rompin ' And Stompin'
  33. We Were Made for Each Other
  34. Everybody Needs Somebody
  35. Togetherness
  36. The Kansas City Song
  37. I'd Love to Be Your Man
  38. Together Again
  39. Fallin' for You
  40. Cryin' Time
  41. Foolin' Around
  42. Down in New Orleans
  43. The Wind Blows Every Day in Oklahoma
  44. Full Time Daddy
  45. The Great White Horse
  46. Black Texas Dirt
  47. Bring Back My Peace of Mind
  48. Guitar Pickin' Man
  49. Dublin Waltz
  50. I'd Love to Be Your Man
  51. Cajun Steel Guitar
  52. Fishin' Reel
  53. Potter's Field
  54. When I'm with You
  55. Pick-Nickin'
  56. Boot Hil
  57. Up On Cripple Creek
  58. (It's a Long Way To) London Town
  59. Scandinavian Polka
  60. Amsterdam
  61. Let the World Keep On a Turnin'
  62. High as the Mountains
  63. Today I Started Loving You Again
  64. I've Never Had a Dream Come True Before
  65. Tennessee Bird Walk
  66. Then Maybe I Can Get Some Sleep
  67. Your Tender Loving Care
  68. Think of Me
  69. I Thank Him for Sending Me You
  70. I Don't Care (Just as Long as You Love Me)
  71. I Wouldn't Live in New York City (If They Gave Me the Whole Dang Town)
  72. No Milk and Honey in Baltimore
  73. Reno Lament
  74. Houston-Town
  75. Santo Domingo
  76. Down in New Orleans
  77. The Wind Blows Every Day in Chicago
  78. (It's a Long Way To) Londontown
  79. The Kansas City Song
  80. Big in Vegas
  81. Reno Lament
  82. No Milk and Honey in Baltimore
  83. Bridge Over Troubled Water
  84. I Am a Rock
  85. Homeward Bound
  86. The Devil Made Me Do That
  87. Everything Reminds Me You're Gone
  88. Catch the Wind
  89. San Francisco Town
  90. Within My Loving Arms
  91. (I'm Goin') Home
  92. Love Minus Zero-No Limit
  93. No Limit
  94. Ring of Fire
  95. Last Date
  96. El Paso
  97. King of the Road
  98. Orange Blossom Special
  99. Tall Dark Stranger
  100. Detroit City
  101. Gentle On My Mind
  102. It's Such a Pretty World Today
  103. Okie from Muskogee
  104. Ruby (Are You Mad)
  105. Heartbreak Mountain
  106. Uncle Pen
  107. Corn Liquor
  108. Rollin' in My Sweet Baby's Arms
  109. I Know You're Married But I Love You Still
  110. Ashes of Love
  111. Ole Slew Foot
  112. Rocky Top
  113. Salty Dog Blues
  114. One of Everything You Got
  115. Home On Christmas Day
  116. All I Want for Christmas Is My Daddy
  117. A Very Merry Christmas
  118. It's Not What You Give
  119. Good Old Fashioned Country Christmas
  120. Christmas Ain't Christmas Dear Without You
  121. Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy
  122. Santa's Gonna Come in a Stagecoach
  123. Tomorrow Is Christmas Day
  124. Too Old to Cut the Mustard
  125. Wham Bam
  126. Pfft You Were (Was) Gone
  127. You're a Real Good Friend
  128. Tobacco White Lightning and Women Blues No. 2
  129. I Won't Go Huntin' with You Jake (But I'll Go Chasin' Wimin)
  130. Cigareets, Whuskey and Wild, Wild Women
  131. Beautiful Morning Glory
  132. I'll Still Be Waiting for You
  133. Daddy Frank (The Guitar Man)
  134. Today I Started Loving You Again
  135. The Fightin' Side of Me
  136. Silver Wings
  137. Okie from Muskogee
  138. The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde
  139. Hungry Eyes
  140. Swinging Doors
  141. I Take a Lot of Pride in What I Am
  142. Mama Tried
  143. Made in Japan
  144. Arms Full of Empty
  145. Ain't It Amazing, Gracie
  146. Looking Back to See
  147. You Ain't Gonna Have Ol' Buck to Kick Around No More
  148. I Love You So Much It Hurts
  149. There Goes My Love
  150. Sweethearts in Heaven
  151. A Whole Lot of Somethin'
  152. Get Out of Town Before Sundown
  153. Something's Wrong
  154. In the Palm of Your Hand
  155. The Good Old Days (Are Here Again)
  156. I Know That You Know (That I Love You)
  157. When You Get Back from Nashville
  158. When You Get to Heaven (I'll Be There)
  159. Long Hot Summer
  160. Streets of Bakersfield
  161. She's Had All the Dreamin' She Can Stand
  162. Your Monkey Won't Be Home Tonight
  163. The Good Old Days (Are Here Again)
  164. Old Faithful
  165. Take a Taste of My Wine
  166. I Think I'm Going to Like Loving You
  167. Sweethearts in Heaven
  168. I've Got a Happy Heart
  169. Arms Full of Empty
  170. All the Dreamin' They Can Stand
  171. Honey... Let's Fall in Love
  172. When You Get to Heaven (I'll Be There)
  173. Love Makes the World Go Round
  174. Love Makes the World Go Around
  175. Loving You
  176. I Won't Be Needing You
  177. Songwriter's Lament
  178. That Loving Feeling
  179. Someday I'm Gonna Go to Mexico
  180. Colors I'm Gonna Paint the Town
  181. It Never Will Be Over for Me
  182. Happy Hour
  183. Your Daddy Was a Preacher (And Your Mama Was a Dancing Girl)
  184. Hello Trouble
  185. Big Game Hunter
  186. (It's A) Monsters' Holiday
  187. I Wish I Was a Butterfly
  188. John Law
  189. Stony Mountain West Virginia
  190. Let the Fun Begin
  191. Holdin' On
  192. Great Expectations
  193. All Around Cowboy of 1964
  194. Meanwhile Back at the Ranch
  195. On the Cover of the Music City News
  196. Great Expectations
  197. Amazing Love
  198. I Love
  199. You're Gonna Love Yourself in the Morning
  200. Kiss an Angel Good Mornin'
  201. Pass Me By (If You're Only Passing Through)
  202. 41st Street Lonely Hearts' Club
  203. Weekend Daddy
  204. I Finally Gave Her Enough Rope
  205. Run Him to the Roundhouse Nellie
  206. Drifting Away
  207. He Ain't Been Out Bowlin' with the Boys
  208. It's Been a Long, Long Time
  209. A Different Kind of Sad
  210. You Don't Find Work in Pool Rooms (And Love Don't Make the Bars)
  211. How's Everything
  212. California Oakie
  213. The Battle of New Orleans
  214. Country Singer's Prayer
  215. Mexican Jumping Bean [*]