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Porter Wagoner

Unplugged – 2002 (Shell Point)

Reviewed by Eli Messinger

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CDs by Porter Wagoner

Porter Wagoner's second Shell Point album finds him in fine voice, with supple support from his regular band, The Wagonmasters, and a finely picked collection of tunes. The album title is one to take with a grain of salt, as Wagoner's never been hugely "plugged" in the first place. Still, the electric guitars give way to steel, dobro and acoustic picking, and the drums keep to a polite level. The result would sound as natural in 1962 as it does here in 2002.

The near-acoustic backing provides ample room for the exceptionally warm vocal harmonies, sung without the strain of topping an electric band. The 72-year-old Wagoner's voice retains its gospel-tinged honky-tonk energy and blends beautifully with his background singers. A pair of duets with Willie Nelson include the classic "Family Bible" and an update of "When the Silver Eagle Meets the Great Speckled Bird."

Wagoner contributes two new tunes: the philosophical "Silence in the Wind" and the redemptive "After All." He selects classics from the catalogs of Bill Monroe ("Blue Velvet Band") and the Osborne Brothers ("I Cried Again"), as well as reprising Dolly Parton's "Lost Forever in Your Kiss." The latter effectively replaces Parton's duet vocal with sotto voce recitation.

For all the glitter of Wagoner's stage suits and showmanship as an Opry host, his music remains down-home and true to the roots of his musical experience. This is no mere rehash of past glories. This is vital, new music from an artist who continues to sparkle with inner electricity.