Kitty Wells ‘I Heard The Jukebox Playing’ 2CD (Jasmine) 4/5

If you ever wondered what else there was in soulful country singers such as Patsy Cline, who thankfully avoid the Nashville stereotype of whirling strings and mundane background vocals, then Kitty Wells should be your next port of call. Soul Jazz records in their excellent two-part ‘Country Sisters’ of a few years back included examples of Kitty Wells’ work and this two CD set, while not the definitive statement from her (no version of her anthem ‘It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels’, for example), is nonetheless a fine microcosm of her career, covering a period of roughly eight years in the 1950s. Jasmine have already issued a previous double CD of Wells, ‘The Queen Of Honky Tonk Angels’ (where the aforementioned single is available), and for those starting off that might be the first port of call. This new release takes the story a step further and is still an excellent entry point. Kitty scored no less than thirty-two top twenty hits on the various titled country music charts (‘country and western’, ‘hillbilly’ among them) and this release focuses attention on two Decca albums from the mid-late 1950s, ‘The Winner Of Your Heart’ (1956) and ‘Lonely Street’ (1958) plus some earlier EP and LP material on the second CD. Concept albums had not yet seen the light of day and country albums tended to be a string of disparate 45s strung together with filler sides. In this case, however, Kitty Wells could always be counted on to provide quality as well as quantity and the melancholic nature of the material coupled with the superlative and distinctive delivery make for great music. For the two Decca albums, a trio of winners includes, ‘Lonely Side Of Town’, ‘Lonely Street’ and ‘You Can’t Conceal A Broken Heart’.

If anything, it is the second side that impresses most of all with ‘One By One’, an outstanding single from 1954 that went all the way to number one in the country charts. A real bonus on this second CD is almost a half hour’s worth of duets with the likes of Red Foley, Webb Pierce and of course not forgetting the great Ray Acuff. In fact, the only duets missing are with Johnny and Jack with whom she recorded elsewhere. Country music has historically prided itself on its male-female duets and this is certainly no exception. Elected to the Country music hall of fame in 1975, Kitty Wells fully deserves her place as one of the all-time great country singers. While we are on the subject, how about some enterprising label putting a two CD anthology of Lefty Frizell’s work on Columbia. One of this writer’s favourite country albums is Lefty’s ‘The Sad Songs Of Love’, and that deserves to be re-issued along with other work from his fine period on Columbia.

Tim Stenhouse