With the addition of these five reissues to the three already in print, the entirety of John Anderson's 1980's output for Warner Brothers is once again available. Collectively, what these records did - or what they were perceived as doing - was foster, if not lead, a traditionalist return in country music. Along with others - Ricky Skaggs, Rodney Crowell, George Strait - Anderson reintroduced harder sounds to mainstream country, and that sound is the backbone of each of these five records: there's the straight up honky tonk of "One of Those Things We All Go Through," twin fiddle and steel slowdowns like "I Danced With the San Antonio Rose," the Waylonesque boom-chick sound of "Red Georgia Clay," the rootsy, acoustic mix of "I've Got Me a Woman."
But by taking the opportunity afforded by this collective reissue to listen again to these albums as a group, the most striking impression is how diverse Anderson's music was (especially after 1983's "I Just Came Home to Count the Memories," the most straightforwardly country of the bunch). Traditionalism was an important part of his music, but only one part. Indeed, as Colin Escott illustrates in his liner notes for one of the albums, Anderson didn't view himself as a traditionalist per se: "they can't hang that label on me," he quotes the singer as saying; "I'm my own man...I'm all over the road."
That road included what one of his songs labeled "A Little Rock 'n' Roll (and Some Country Blues)," and plenty of city blues, too: covers of the Stones and Bo Diddley, the self-explanatory "Twelve Bar Blues," some swamp rock here and there and the honkin', sax-fuelled r&b exemplified by "She Sure Got Away With My Heart."
Anderson had his ups-and-downs over the course of his Warner years; none of these albums approach the consistency of his best record from this period, "Wild and Blue" (indeed, the first half of "Tokyo, Oklahoma" might be the best half an album he ever made, the second half, which takes a turn towards sappy country pop with material such as "Even a Fool Would Let Go" and "Only Your Love," the worst). And, not surprisingly, at times they all manifest the date-stamp of '80s country sonics. Nonetheless, every one of them still offers something worth listening to again.