Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Johnny Darrell - The Son of Hickory Holler's Tramp (United Artists, 1968)
The Son of Hickory Holler's Tramp was criminally underrated country music singer Johnny Darrell's third LP the for United Artists label. Although not as consistently strong as his first two albums, As Long as the Winds Blow and Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town, it still contains many fine moments that are representative of the late 1960s Nashville sound. Once again, Darrell relied upon material written by other songwriters and for the most part exercised good judgment in selecting songs that were appropriate for his singing style.
Released in 1968, most, if not all, of the tracks were recorded during the preceding year. Indeed, the excellent title song, written by Dallas Frazier, reached #22 on the country music charts in 1967. As with "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town," his previous significant hit single, "The Son of Hickory Holler's Tramp," dealt with a controversial issue. In this particular case, the song's narrator relates the story of his single mother's prostitution activities that were necessary to provide for her numerous children. Despite its heavy subject matter, the performance has a pleasant quality to it as well as a memorable chorus. Predictably, someone else had a hit with it. This time, however, it was not another country singer, but instead black pop vocalist O.C. Smith. His version barely scraped the US Top 40 Pop and R&B charts, although it was a #2 UK Pop hit in 1968.
Regarding the other tracks, "My Elusive Dreams" was a minor country hit, reaching the #73 position. A bit too mawkish for my taste, it should not be surprising that the piece was co-authored by Billy Sherrill, one of the architects of the mushy Countrypolitan sound. All is quickly forgiven with Darrell's inspired version of Mel Tillis' "Goodbye Wheeling," although he veers back toward schmaltz territory in covering Roger Miller's "Absence." The singer regains his bearings on John D. Loudermilk's "Break My Mind" (especially notable for the excellent backing vocalists) and on another Dallas Frazier tune, "If My Heart Had Windows," a gentle but earthy performance that is greatly enhanced by the presence of steel guitar. "I'm a Travelin' Man" is every bit as good "The Son of Hickory Holler's Tramp," with its echoey production bringing the impressive dobro and percussion work to the fore of the mix. "But That's Alright" compares favorably with Waylon Jenning's version of this Autry Inman composition, while "Laura (What's He Got That I Ain't Got)" and "The Chokin' Kind" are pleasant if not overwhelmingly compelling tracks. The sorrow-tinged "Hangin' On," with its lyrics describing the effects of being strung along by the singer's love interest, effectively concludes the album with the kind of song at which Darrell excelled.
1. The Son of Hickory Holler's Tramp
2. My Elusive Dreams
3. Goodbye Wheeling
5. Break My Mind
6. If My Heart Had Windows
7. I'm a Travelin' Man
8. But That's Alright
9. Laura (What's He Got That I Ain't Got)
10. The Chokin' Kind
11. Hangin' On