The late Keith Whitley, who died at age 33 of acute alcohol poi-soning, was an example of why it isn’t always a good idea to try to live your lyrics if you’re country music singer. He started as a child, singing on the radio by age nine, and at 15 he was touring with Ralph Stanley’s Clinch Mountain Boys.
Whitley met Ricky Skaggs while he was with Stanley and went on to cut a bluegrass duo album with him. Next, he joined J.D. Crowe’s New South as their lead singer. Their album, Somewhere Between, features his spine-tingling, bent-note lead singing. His own solo career began like a rocket, with three number one singles in one year and a promising future virtually assured. Then came tragic death and the possibility of obscurity.
Sad Songs and Waltzes is a breathtakingly beautiful CD with a pervasive air of tragedy that settles like a mist when you put it on your stereo. From the first Lefty Frizzell cut, “I Never Go Around Mirrors,” to the final chords of Dycus and Barnes’ “Family Tree,” this album oozes essence of traditional country music like the smell of spilled whisky wafting from a sawdust floor. For anyone who is tired of the shallow gloss of hot country, these songs, delivered with heartfelt purity, are as welcome as rain after a midsummer drought. Even if you play it continuously, as I have, this disc never gets tiresome; there’s just too much great music.
If you’re already a Keith Whitley fan, you won’t find any new material here. The songs were culled from two sessions; a spring ’83 solo venture and songs done for Somewhere Between. Top-flight musicians including Randy Howard, Weldon Myrick, Ricky Rector, Kenny Malone, Pete Wade, J.D. Crowe, Jeff White, Wes Hightower, Alison Krauss, Dale Ann Bradley, and the Jordanaires can be heard throughout the album.
Mastering Engineer Denny Purcell at Georgetown Masters turns in his usual superlative job freshening up the older material and adding HDCD encoding.
If you like traditional country music and don’t already have all of Keith Whitley’s recordings, you need this CD. It is as perfect as a CD gets. See www.rounder.com
This review originally appeared in VG‘s Mar. ’01 issue.