Here's some good news for discriminating country music fans. The fine folks at the Omni Recording Corporation have just released Troubled Troubadours, an extraordinary reissue compilation that concentrates almost exclusively on country songs from the deeply weird side of the tracks. Topics include execution, murder, abortion, a pregnant woman's suicide, war and assassination. And that's just the first four or five songs!
Most of the 27 songs here date from the late 1960s or early 70s and the changing times are reflected in many of the selections in one way or another. A prime example is Henson Cargill's Daddy, What's A Tree? which focuses on a bleak future in the aftermath of an environmental apocalypse. But that's practically a lighthearted romp next to Are They Gonna Shoot God? by Mark Slade. And there are some fine songs about murder (Justin Tubb's The River Road Mystery), car crashes (Trooper Jim Foster's Four Chrome Wheels), the nut house (Dolly Parton's Daddy Come And Get Me) and the ravages of war (Arlene Harden's Congratulations You Sure Made A Man Out Of Him).
It's not all relentlessly depressing, though. Two obscure Homer & Jethro tracks are present, and so is Autry Inman's loopy anti-hippie/protester anthem The Ballad Of Two Brothers. Also on the menu are songs by Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams Jr., Porter Wagoner, Stonewall Jackson, and Roger Miller among others. And the package comes with a nifty booklet full of rare period photos, label shots and illuminating liner notes.
The folks at Omni have spent the last few years assembling a pretty impressive track record with their reissues and compilations which have included two separate Porter Wagoner discs, one of which (The Rubber Room) collected most of Porter's oddest sides. Other worthwhile projects have included collections by Johnny Paycheck (from his formative years with the Little Darlin' label), Dee Mullins, the Stonemans (3 LPs on a single cd!), John D. Loudermilk, Jimmy Driftwood and a two-disc retrospective on the Plantation label. While most labels strive to avoid soiling their rosters with collections like these, Omni, thankfully, is one of a handful of outfits that forges ahead with conviction.
Here's a sample track from Troubled Troubadours, one that's been a long-time favorite at my house. In 1971, Marty Robbins wrote and recorded The Chair, a hauntingly grim first person account of a prisoner's trip to the electric chair and the terrible jolts he feels when they throw the switch. Perhaps the most amazing thing about this macabre tale is that it somehow made it all the way to #7 on Billboard's chart of Country Singles!
Marty Robbins - The Chair (4:16, MP3)