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Marty Robbins

Live Classics – 2001 (Audium)

Reviewed by Ken Burke

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CDs by Marty Robbins

The hillbilly heart of Marty Robbins has seldom been displayed more prominently as on this 21-song set. Culled from Armed Forces Radio discs, these Grand Ol' Opry performances (1951-60) document the Glendale, Ariz. singer-songwriter's evolution from local phenom, through his early years as "Mr. Teardrop," to his arrival as a multi-million selling crossover superstar.

Opening with two numbers the artist never officially recorded ("Ain't You Ashamed," "Good Night Cincinnati, Good Morning Tennessee") Robbins' seminal honkytonk crooning ("At The End Of A Long Lonely One," "I Can't Help It If I'm Still In Love With You"), are as touching as they are masterful. Clearly, the former host of KPHO's Western Caravan was in transition during the mid-'50's. Blending proto-rockabilly ("That's All Right") with teen-oriented ballads ("A White Sport Coat," "The Story Of My Life"), Robbins managed to sound achingly pure despite the now dated pop background singers.

Robbins peaked with his first volley of gunfighter ballads. Versions included here ("The Hanging Tree," "Running Gun," "El Paso") soar with the adrenal rush of an artist reaching his vocal and creative peak. This highly recommended compilation sports surprisingly fine sound, and an unbeatable playlist.