Nowadays, Marty Robbins is more respected than appreciated. Much of his studio material sounds dated because of syrupy string arrangements and slick backup singers. But a new release from the Country Hall of Fame brings the real live Marty Robbins to us in a way that even us young’uns can appreciate. Culled from years of live performances on the Grand ‘Ol Opry, this CD has 20 selections that show not only Robbins’ fine voice, but his ability to change his musical style to fit the times.
Beginning with a 1951 performance of “Ain’t You Ashamed,” Robbins’ early material is pure western swing. His ’55 rendition of Arthur Crudup’s “That’s All Right” puts a country twang to this Elvis classic. The guitar solo (which I believe is Robbins) is a virtual encyclopedia of early R&R guitar licks. By the late ’50s, Robbins’ style had evolved into a countrified pop complete with a whistling chorus and perfectly executed three-part backup harmonies. The Burt Bachrach/Hal David tune “The Story of My Life” is typical.
Robbins is best known for his cowboy songs. These cinematically influenced ditties captured the imagination of a public clamoring for John Wayne westerns and Davey Crockett coonskin hats. Live performances of Robbins’ own “El Paso” and Tompall Glaser’s “Running Gun” provide a suitable finale to this recording.
Besides a fine selection of live performances, you’ll discover thoughtful and historically detailed liner notes from the Country Music Foundation’s Ronnie Pugh. He helps put Robbins’ work within the social context of his times. My only complaint with the packaging is the lack of musician credits. It would be nice to know who was responsible for the great solos.
The sound is better than you’d expect, considering it is taken from radio broadcasts. It isn’t as full-fidelity as modern recordings, or even Robbins’ studio work, but the sound is good enough so it never gets in the way of the music. Fortunately there was no attempt to add stereo effects or artificial reverb, and the final result is a clear sonic picture of what Marty Robbins sounded like when he played live. What more could a music lover ask for?
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Oct. ’01 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.