Album Review

Buck Owens - The Warner Bros. Recordings

Buck Owens - The Warner Bros. Recordings

Buck was always the first to put down his Warners output, but you almost have to hear it all in one place to comprehend how oppressively lackluster it really was. Reeling from the death of his friend and collaborator Don Rich, verging on brain-dead from too many seasons of "Hee Haw", and starting to fade from the changing country charts with his Bakersfield sound, Buck went Nashville -- and it nearly did him in even worse than any of those other setbacks. This twofer gathers his two albums, parts of a third that was never issued, and a bunch of singles.

With few exceptions, the material, including Owens originals such as "Love Is A Warm Cowboy", was hackneyed -- love songs full of vague, empty platitudes, novelty songs that confused "novel" with "lame." The production and arrangements they were given represent Music City dreck at its most formulaic.

And Buck, bless his soul just the same, proved himself their equal, sounding disembodied and uninvolved, singing by rote, without any of his customary feeling or vocal fillips. The phrase "phoning it in" was pretty much coined to describe performances like his on "It's Been A Long, Long Time", "Do You Wanna Make Love" and "Nights Are Forever Without You".

With the exception of "Play Together Again Again", with Emmylou Harris, itself a rather desperate (but thankfully successful) attempt to rekindle old fires, the stuff that sounds best (George Jones' "Seasons Of My Heart", Delbert McClinton's "Victim Of Life's Circumstances") sounds that way mainly because of the material rather than Buck's or the band's efforts.

He didn't fare as well with other revivals such as "Hollywood Waltz" (done here as a perky sing-along) or "Lady Madonna". Even when a rare worthy song brings out the best in Owens, the final product is undermined by the studio hacks behind him; imagine what the Buckaroos might have been able to do with something like "California Okie".

Redemption finally comes on the very last track, when Dwight Yoakam rides in on a white horse and convinces Buck to join him in cutting "Streets Of Bakersfield". You already know how great that one is.