Coming from a family of record collectors with catholic tastes, I was hearing country music even before I was old enough to know what it was. It was called hillbilly music when I was a kid, but country was what it was. In our house you were just as likely to hear Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers, Tennessee Ernie Ford and Webb Pierce as you were Little Richard, Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry.
Most of the performers on this second volume in our “Where Country Meets Soul” series – particularly those from the American south – would have heard even more country music during their early years than I did. When the time came to pursue their recording careers, it was no surprise that many of them chose, at some point, to interpret country songs. Their passionate renditions of country classics show how thin the line is that separates the two most significant genres in American popular music – soul and country.
“Sweet Dreams” carries on from where “Behind Closed Doors” left off by presenting 23 more sublime interpretations of great country songs. A Who’s Who of songwriters is represented, among them Willie Nelson, Hank Williams, Don Gibson and Dan Penn. The cast of performers is no less stellar – who wouldn’t want to buy a CD that includes top-drawer performances from such iconic artists as Otis Redding, William Bell, Bettye Swann, Esther Phillips and Bobby Bland, to name but a few.
The collection is rich in highlights. My personal favourites include Sweet Pea Atkinson’s intense 1997 recording of the Hank Williams obscurity ‘Forever’s A Long, Long Time’ and, from over three decades earlier, William Bell’s quietly dignified take on Hank Locklin’s 1960 smash ‘Please Help Me, I’m Falling’. Soul ladies are elegantly represented by definitive readings of ‘Funny How Time Slips Away’ by Dorothy Moore and ‘Sweet Music Man’ by Millie Jackson, not to mention the Sweet Inspirations’ masterful take the Kenny Rogers hit ‘But You Know I Love You’. The selections have been chosen to represent all facets of country and soul – and country soul. I have no doubt that if you liked our previous volume you will love this one just as much.
As with “Behind Closed Doors”, full details of the original versions of these songs are displayed in the track-by-track annotations. I would urge anyone who likes these soul renditions to check out the country originals too. It’s never too late to become a country music fan.
By Tony Rounce