If anyone has any idea why it took Charlie Daniels so long to get mainstream respect from the country establishment, please speak now. By the time he was invited as a member of the Grand Old Opry, in 2007, he had been in the business nearly 50 years. 2016 - the year in which he turns 80 - saw Daniels finally inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Yet few country artists have managed the crossover success of a "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" (way back in 1979). That was a Top-Five Pop Hit, to go with the Best Country Vocal Grammy. And yes, that song might be where the casual fans leave off. However, unlike quite a few others, Daniels has a greatest hits record filled with actual hits.
Musically, everything feels cohesive on this release of cowboy tunes. It revels in reinserting the "Western" back into country music. But because some of these songs were written in different generations, there's some pretty abrupt tonal shifts. "Running With the Crowd" advises to avoid late Saturday nights, while "Stay All Night" counsels the opposite. Daniels loves songs about the cowboy "code," those pale rider rules to live by. So that's here in spades, frequently done in a style that suits a cattle drive.
Still, one wonders if this collection is fully necessary. "Old Chisolm Trail," which dates back to 1910, and "Yippe Ki Yea" were both already covered on Daniels 2000 record "By The Light of the Moon." This mines very similar territory to that album (without the chit-chat). It's campfire-ready, mostly family-friendly fare.
The lone exception is "Can't Beat the Damned Old Machine," another abrupt subject turn. But there's still fun to be had. The Spanish-flavored guitars of "Billy the Kid" are a highlight, and "Ghost Riders in the Sky" never tires. The revelation is the singing, unbreakable as a steel plow. This is the exact same voice that dazzled audiences in the '70s. One key is in the arrangements - Daniels stays in tight vocal pockets, always playing to his strengths. Good luck guessing his age just through your ears. Maybe that's why Nashville hadn't caught on to how overdue for accolades this ageless cowboy is.