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Mr Lucky
Music Reviews

Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys
Boot Heel Drag: The MGM Years
Mercury 088170206-2 Western Swing

Album Art

When we were younger, our family had a horrible, plastic black and white television. Lost among all our kiddy toys was the antenna. A wire hanger from the dry cleaner, twisted out of recognition, served as the medium to receive the broadcast signal. Also gone was the dial for changing channels. This was in the 1960s and remote controls were considered very indulgent and expensive in those days. In order to change channels, we'd use an old pair of pliers. That is, when we could find them, as the pliers made for a great toy and were often lost. To say the least, TV viewing wasn't an enjoyable pastime in our household.

Listening to the new Bob Wills compilation on Mercury Records, Boot Heel Drag: The MGM Years, is like watching Gone With the Wind on our old TV set. The sound is atrocious and it's just hard to believe this is the best Mercury could do. On the seminal and essential Bear Family Records Box, San Antonio Rose, the sound quality is all over the map and understandably so. The recordings are older, obscure takes weren't well protected and the task of recording Wills' massive big band at its largest was an impossible task in the days before high fidelity. When Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys left Columbia at the height of their popularity for the newly formed M-G-M Records, they were one of the label's premier artistes. They were also a smaller band and presumably easier to record. It's inconceivable that the original recordings were so poorly recorded. But perhaps it's true. Or Mercury has done a sloppy job of reissuing for the first time on compact disc these important recordings. The otherwise fine liner notes don't mention the task of recording the Texas Playboys.

The 50 tracks represent about half of Wills' master recordings on M-G-M Records, all between 1947 and 1951. Since there are so many marginal tracks, it would have been wiser to produce a single "best of"-type compilation or else a complete collection. Instead, these 50 tracks are programmed in a nonsensical order and make it very hard to put this period of Bob Wills' career in any kind of perspective. Luckily, Bear Family is rumored to be hard at work on their second collection of Wills' music and the sound should be better and the songs will be presented chronologically.

The good news about Boot Heel Drag is that after getting over the disappointment of the sound and the odd order of the songs, you begin to notice some lovely little gems on this two-CD set. Conventional wisdom might suggest that Wills' most innovative days were behind him, but Bob Wills doing less than his best is still better than most could hope for. These are the last recordings Tommy Duncan made with the Wills organization before he ventured out on his own (and reunited with Wills in the 1960s for a trio of fine albums). Duncan would prove to be the most distinctive and creative vocalist to work with Wills until Leon Rausch joined the band, and as fine a singer as Rausch is, it's Duncan who helped define the Wills sound during its prime. Also featured is a rare track by songwriter Cindy Walker (You Don't Know Me, Miss Molly, Dusty Skies and countless others) singing her less than memorable ditty Three Little Kittens. The first version of the Honky Tonk classic Bubbles in My Beer (also written by Walker) is here, as is the exciting Hubbin' It with the great line: How's the world treatin' you? / Made your fortune yet? / The world ain't been treatin' me / I pay for what I get. Faded Love, now with lyrics, made its first appearance here, although it's a shame Tommy Duncan didn't get a crack at it, even if Rusty McDonald does a fine job.

We were really looking forward to this release and we can't remember a time when we've been so let down by a reissue. While this would be a weird introduction to the Texas Playboy sound, admired by most everyone, even those that say they hate Country and Western music, it's a nice little pacifier until Bear Family does their assumed superior and complete version.

Maci Miller
A Very Good Night

Dreamcastle Records MM5436 Vocals

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We decided we were going to hate this album the moment we received it. Maci Miller is a very attractive young woman who would appear caught in the trappings of a neo-retro aesthetic, the kind that lumps all the different decades and genres from the 20th century into a general "nostalgia" feeling that never actually existed. The photo on the back cover sums up what bugs us about this melting pot: Miller is wearing a traveling suit, apparently waiting for a train. It is daytime, yet she's wearing a fur. Her hair is down, yet she's wearing a hat. The look is somewhat 1940s yet she's holding a suitcase that we'd guess is from 10 to 15 years later. Her skirt is above her knees. The font used to list the songs is from the 1930s. It's all a big mess and the assumption is that the music will be as well.

The reality is that Miller possesses a much better voice than anyone this attractive deserves. There's still a general botch of genres and styles, but Miller loves music and our guess is she's going to be one of the better singers of the new millennium. If she'd drop the cutesy "nostalgia" for a more classic sound, our guess is there'd be no stopping her. She's also one of the few people anywhere that is writing actual songs. And many of them are very good, if not great.

We came to Miller's party a cynic but we're leaving with an open mind. Maci Miller is definitely worth checking out.

New & Notable

Trombonist Chris Washburne's new disc is a tribute to El Rey, Tito Puente. El Otro Lado/The Other Side is on Jazzheads Records (JH 1139) and is a great set that you should know about. Guests include our favorite percussionist, Bobby Sanabria…The Hammond organ has a good friend in Tony Monaco and his trio. Their new disc, Burnin' Grooves (Summit Records DCD 304) is one for the hips and the heart…Hey, did you know there's a Complete Congress Recordings album by Name Game diva Shirley Ellis (CD 340)? Well, it's true! Connoisseur Collection Ltd, out of the UK has collected her 24 recordings from Congress and it's a gas…Maybe you didn't know but Country & Western music is in a real crisis these days, much like the rest of Popular music. It seems that country fans are as upset at Shania Twain taking over "their" music as jazz fans are over Kenny G. Dallas Wayne's new disc on Hightone (HCD8137), Here I Am In Dallas, is not for the fans of Shania Twain, Faith Hill or the rest of the crossover gang. For better and for worse (mostly better), it's what we think of when someone says Country. It's gutsy, clever and fun. The ballads work much better than the rockers, but the whole is disc is easy to like for us country fans.




The Martini rating System

Coconut Grove Media

Scientific, Accurate
& Easy To Understand!
5 Martinis = Classic
4 Martinis = Great
3 Martinis = Good
2 Martinis = Fair
1 Martini = Poor


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