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Daryle Singletary goes straight from the heart

By Dan MacInotsh, March 2007

A quick glance at the Shanachie Entertainment web contains new release listings for the Soweto Gospel Choir, reggae singer Alpha Blondy, soul singer Meshell Ndegeocello and jazz bassist Charles Mingus. There is no George Jones or Merle Haggard CDs. Nevertheless, Shanachie is releasing a new album by, perhaps, the best modern day Jones/Haggard disciple, Daryle Singletary. Somebody please tell Alan Jackson that even world music has gone country.

Singletary has tracked music with on the majors (3 '90s releases for Giant), as well as 2 albums for the relatively diminutive and now defunct Audium. Yet who would have predicted Shanachie was in the cards for this traditional country singer? The label released "Straight From the Heart" in late February.

"Well, they approached me," Singletary begins. "And honestly, I wasn't familiar with their work. I'm a country listener. I'm a country fan. But we got a-talkin to 'em and, you know, they had some great ideas. They had never done country before. They wanted to do a country record. And it's very flattering that they wanted me to be the first artist they worked with."

Singletary may have been relatively in the dark about Shanachie, but someone over there obviously likes him. "They had heard the CD I had out, like, in 2002, "That's Why I Sing This Way," and they wanted me to do another covers record," he continues. "They gave me freedom to do a couple of original songs as well. I'm really excited about it. They had some really great ideas, and it seemed like the place at the time to be. It's been four years since I've had a CD out, so I'm excited to be working with them."

This 12-song CD contains many familiar country music standards, yet Singletary gave many of these old books surprising new covers. For instance, he sings Buck Owens' "I've Got a Tiger by the Tail" with duet partner Ricky Skaggs, a man more closely associated with reviving bluegrass, not Bakersfield music.

"What made a lot of Buck Owens stuff different and kind stand out was (guitarist) Don Rich singing the high tenor part on his stuff," Singletary elaborates. "I love Ricky Skaggs. I love his singing. I think he's a great artist and a good person. We wanted him to be on the record because he's got that distinctive (vocal) sound."

For "Black Sheep," Singletary, 36, convinced John Anderson, who had the big country hit with it in 1983, to join him. "I'm a big John Anderson fan," Singletary gushes. "I asked him would he come in and help me do the song. He said he'd love to. We just had him do kind of the answer to my question: 'Tell them what to do, John.' So, he did the tagline, which was awesome."

This is a covers album that mixes old stuff, like "These Days I Barely Get By" with newer material like "Jesus and Bartenders," supporting the axiom that it doesn't need to be old to be a classic. There is even a brand new one called "I Still Sing This Way." Clearly, the disc is a mixed and matched set.

"The last cover record we did, we pretty much went back and did old songs," says Singletary, a native of Cairo, Ga. "And I wanted to do some songs on this one from more of my generation. Like the Keith Whitley and Randy Travis. But I was influenced by and loved the George Jones and Merle Haggard and the Mel Street and the Buck Owens and the Conway Twitty."

Some of this CD's material first appeared on an ill-fated Singletary Audium/Koch CD, which was never released. "We actually did a record on Koch before they (the label) closed," says Singletary. "And we had recorded "Jesus and Bartenders" on there. It was a song I really loved, so we did it. We had a whole record done. We had a release date, the whole deal. And then they come up and just closed the label up. It was all new material. The record went on the shelf, and as far as I know, it's still sitting on the shelf."

But Singletary didn't leave his singing voice on any shelf. And speaking of dusting off older stuff from the shelf, many of the studio musicians who contributed to "Straight from the Heart" tracks, also appeared on their original recordings.

"We tracked most of the older songs the first day, and it was funny because every song we tracked got to be a joke," Singletary recalls. "Pig (pianist Hargus "Pig" Robbins) would say, 'Yeah, I played on this one.' He actually played on the original tracks, which was really neat for me because I'm such a big, big fan. He's just awesome."

But the respect was mutual in this studio. These players jumped at the chance to make - and sometimes remake - traditional recordings again. "These guys cut major artists every day," says Singletary. "Alan Jackson, McGraw...all these guys. And you bring 'em in to do these old traditional songs, and it's like they're kids in the candy store. It's very easy to get jaded in this business when you do it every day. When you go back to your roots, it's a rebirthing thing. These guys really came to life, and it was awesome."

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