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Tex Williams

On the Air – 1997 (Country Routes (UK import))

Reviewed by Jon Johnson

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CDs by Tex Williams

Mainly known nowadays for their 1947 recording of Merle Travis' classic "Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)," Tex Williams and His Western Caravan was as good a western swing band as any that existed in the post-war era. Made up almost entirely of members of Spade Cooley's great early Forties band who left Cooley and struck out on their own in early 1945, the Williams band largely managed to avoid the schmaltzy arrangements that Cooley was sometimes known for, replacing it with an emphasis on hot soloing, Williams' trademark "talking blues" delivery, and a wicked sense of humor.

Made up of radio airchecks recorded at various venues in southern California, this is a worthy reminder of the days when western swing acts blanketed the ballrooms of the southwest. Though this oddly has few of the songs that the group was known for in the Cooley days and in the early post-war period ("Smoke!..." is used as an intro for the shows), the lack of the group's hits is compensated for by hot soloing (from steel guitarist Joaquin Murphy and guitarist Johnny Weis, among others) on instrumental numbers like "The Caravan Ride," Count Basie's "One O'Clock Jump," "Steel Guitar Rag," and "Three Way Boogie," a chestnut from the Cooley days.

While the sound quality is rough at times and dropouts are somewhat common, it's certainly listenable and the historical interest more than makes up for any audio deficiencies.