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Various Artists

The Big "D" Jamboree Live Vols. 1&2 – 2000 (Dragon Street)

Reviewed by Jon Johnson

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The Big "D" Jamboree is a collection of live tracks broadcast on the Dallas-based radio program, mostly dating from 1956-59, an important period during which the country music industry - as well as the Big "D" Jamboree - found itself struggling to adapt to the changes brought on by rock 'n' roll. It's appropriate, therefore, that this 54-track 2-disc collection (very little previously released) would be divided into one disc titled "Hillbillies" and a second, "Rockabillies," though the Jamboree was rarely as finicky about such distinctions. While the attention on disc 1 is likely to be focused on the 3 circa-'57 Johnny Cash tracks, many other cuts - including performances from Ferlin Husky, Hank Locklin, and Leon Payne - are almost as interesting. Some (particularly numbers by Wanda Jackson and the terrific Charlene Arthur) even rival Cash's crackerjack performances for excitement.

In truth, the Big "D" Jamboree (which operated from the late '40's until the mid-'60's) embraced rock 'n' roll to a far greater degree than others in the country industry did. As a result, much of the second disc draws on the respectable Dallas rockabilly scene of the late '50's, including strong performances from Johnny Carroll, Joe Poovey, Johnny Dollar, Ronnie Dawson and the Everly-esque Belew Twins, who at least come across here as slightly less disturbing than they did in the classic 1956 no-budget flick "Rock, Baby, Rock It!" Notable national acts of the period pop up on disc 2, as well, including Sun-era Carl Perkins and Warren Smith, not to mention three riveting numbers from Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps.

The graphic presentation here is impeccable (though regrettably packaged in the cardboard "digipak" format), with dozens of previously unpublished photos, and the liner notes by Kevin Coffey are both entertaining and informative. What's more, the sound quality (taken from the original 16" transcription discs stored with the Library of Congress) is excellent. While one can lament the fact that transcriptions of Big "D" appearances by the Sun-era Elvis, Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell and the Maddox Brothers & Rose were either never made or haven't survived, "The Big 'D' Jamboree Live" captures an important era of 20th century American music and offers a fascinating glimpse at the autumn of the once-thriving regional "barn dance" broadcasts that blanketed the US and Canada. (Dragon Street Records, P.O. Box 670714, Dallas, TX 75367, E-Mail: dragonst@flash.net)