Cast aside the calamitous nature of all the troublesome current events and the caustic thoughts they lend to, and cue up this fine specimen of authentic country music that will steal you away to a sublime place where all is right in the world like only the best of country music can do. Because this, ladies and gentlemen, is the best of country music.
It’s been said before, but the release of this tribute record to Ray Price is a great occasion to underscore it once again: Making great country music is not rocket science. Just follow the lead of all the old greats, and the music will do the rest. Country Music Hall of Famer Vince Gill, and 30-time CMA Musician of the Year nominee Paul Franklin prove that so demonstrably with this album, it renders all counter arguments as moot, and with cover material no less.
Sweet Memories: The Music of Ray Price and the Cherokee Cowboys is a master class and defining work of classic country music. But what it isn’t is a reenactment. Both Ray Price and Vince Gill are tenors, but where Price’s tone was more full and woody, Gill’s is more clean and favored to the falsetto. Where some of Ray Price’s production during the Countrypolitan era got quite schmaltzy and string-laden, with the steel accompaniment here from Paul Franklin, it’s all kept very sincere to traditional country.
Some of Ray Price’s signature songs such as “Heartaches By The Number” and “For The Good Times” aren’t even on the album. A song like “Weary Blues From Waitin'” is likely more identifiable with Hank Williams. Ray Price wasn’t a terribly prolific songwriter, but only one song of his (“Your Old Love Letters”) made the cut. Vince Gill and Paul Franklin instead favored semi-hits and obscure selections so that much of the material still feels new to the audience despite being tribute songs.
What seemed most important to Vince and Paul was finding songs that they could use as launching pads to showcase some rather incredible vocal and instrumental performances, which are packed into Sweet Memories from stem to stern. On songs like “Danny Boy” and “I’ll Fight The World,” Vince Gill doesn’t wuss out or request a lower key when it comes time to sing the high notes. He fearlessly climbs the ladder and nails them. And of course you could stomp on Paul Franklin’s toe with a steel toed boot and slap him in the face with a rubber chicken, and he still couldn’t hit a sour note.
Also give credit to Vince and Paul’s collaborators Tom Bukovac (electric guitar), Dennis Crouch (bass), Stuart Duncan (fiddle), Steve Gibson (electric guitar), John Jarvis (piano), Greg Morrow (drums), Wendy Moten (harmony vocals), the late Michael Rhodes (electric bass), Jerry Roe (drums), Derek Wells (electric guitar), and Andrea Zonn (harmony vocals), who all help articulate the vision for this album into sweet reality. Former Grand Ole Opry announcer and country music historian Eddie Stubbs was also involved helping to pick out songs.
Just as important as finding cool songs to showcase, Vince and Paul also made sure that all the songs fit together seamlessly so that Sweet Memories would be a cohesive listening experience, even though the songs come from different eras. This is definitely one of those albums you press play on and leave it running, with no slackers in the bunch. Vince Gill and Paul Franklin are master craftsman of true country music, and why they’re not pumping out more of these kinds of records is the only thing left to question.
There’s a strong case to be made that Vince and Paul sound even better here and turn in something that will withstand the test of time even more than some of the original songs they’ve collaborated on together. Such passion and love was put into these recordings to the point where not a note feels out of place.
The legacy of Ray Price is rendered alive and bursting with appeal through these recordings, thanks to Vince Gill and Paul Franklin.
1 3/4 Guns Up (8.4/10)
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