There's no questioning the depth of Rose Maddox's commitment to the promises of country music: in the nuances of her performance, the commonplaces of middle-American life become talismans of hope and the many small torments of small-town romance build themselves up into explosions of cathartic rage.
These sides, originally recorded in 1987 only to be lost in a record company morass until now, are a testament to her remarkable power as well as her patience. And like most great stylists, she has her muses and ghosts to contend with- the spirit of Kitty Wells looms large over her most powerful recordings, and the influence is both palpable and compelling. Maddox wisely appropriates from the darker margins of Wells' musical character, bringing to them an exuberance which moves rooms of people to their feet. This disc has her mainly performing duets with John Jorgenson, whose guitar skills are just awesome enough that they excuse his limitations as a singer. Paired instrumentally with the great Jay Dee Maness on steel, he demonstrates a harmonic sensibility which sets him apart from the six-string rank and file around Music City. It is unfortunate that the production fails to represent the extent of their talents: its sheen of digital processing, the dirty thumb-print of '80's production values, sharpens the higher registers to too-fine a point and disperses the lows with unnecessary amounts of delay. The material, including covers from Buck Owens, Hoyt Axton and Chris Hillman, evokes the spirit of the art from the days when studios in Nashville and Bakersfield competed in earnest for every moment of air time.
Maddox could record another half-dozen sessions in that vein and there wouldn't be a single moment of redundancy to be found. Here's hoping Country-Town has the means to make that happen.