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Hank Thompson

Dance Ranch/Songs For Rounders – 1999 (Koch)

Reviewed by Stuart Munro

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CDs by Hank Thompson

Hank Thompson has enjoyed a career of remarkable longevity and consistent quality, and this reissue of two late-1950's LPs is a good indication why. Thompson has had charting singles in each decade from the '40's through the '80's, yet this is remarkable not least for their strength of material in spite of their inclusion of relatively few of those hits.

In fact, neither release on the Koch reissue yielded a single hit; indeed, "Rounders" was in a sense built on the assumption that it would produce no hits at all because it was a concept album, built around Thompson's desire to record "Cocaine Blues." When producer Ken Nelson pointed out the song would never get any airplay, Thompson suggested that they might as well make an entire album of like songs. The result - from the rollicking version of "Cocaine Blues" to the rocking, walking blues of "Drunkard's Blues" and "Dry Bread" to the rock-and-roll-ish "Deep Elm" to the carefree "Bummin' Around" and the harrowing honky-tonk of "Little Blossom"- was a spectacular tour de force.

If less brilliant, the previous year's "Dance Ranch" nonetheless has its own rewards. Many songs feature a poppier sound supplied by vibes or a background chorus, as on the gauzy "After All the Things I've Done" and "Make Room in Your Heart." There's also a great mix of popular and country-western sounds on the Brazos Valley Boys' renditions of Woody Herman's "Woodchopper's Ball" and Artie Shaw's "Summit Ridge Drive;" the band veers close to straight big band on both cuts, but the country is always there, not least in swinging steel lines. There's plenty of harder honky-tonk as well (for example, Thompson's cover of "Drivin' Nails In My Coffin").

The disc does not include a rundown of session personnel, which is a shame, but both is a worthy addition to the collection of any fan of classic honky tonk and western swing.