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Roy Acuff

The Voice of Country Music, Songs of the Smoky Mountains, The Great Roy Acuff – 2002 (Dualtone)

Reviewed by Tom Netherland

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CDs by Roy Acuff

"The Voice of Country Music" is the perfect title. Look high among the ranks of country music's all-time greats. Way up top stands Roy Claxton Acuff, long known as the King of Country Music.

Rightly so. One listen to Dualtone's trio of Acuff re-releases would convince even the most doubtful of doubters. As exhibited throughout each album, no one sang with more passion. For instance, on "The Voice," Acuff's mountain music style reverberates like an old steam engine rumbling through the Smoky Mountains. Whether it's a lighthearted "Whoa Mule" or the soaked-in-serious "What Will I Do," Acuff's from-the-gut wail drips with passion. Backed by his superb Smoky Mountain Boys band, the Country Music Hall of Fame member's take on the sprightly "Night Spots (Of the Town)" and "Streamline Heartbreaker" bespeaks a man who was wholly happy with such songs on his lips.

Listen close and you can all but see straight-backed Acuff at the microphone, head slung back, mouth wide and wailing these songs.

As with its two companions, "Songs of the Smoky Mountains" exhibits country music at its very finest. Acuff would have had no tolerance for today's without-a-clue crooners.

For good reason. See, with just one gimpy note from Bashful Brother Oswald's dobro on "Wabash Cannonball" and there's no question about who's about to sing. Even though the versions included here are re-recordings of his seminal Columbia Records classics, Acuff's performances do not waver in quality.

If anything, his time-textured voice rings truer. After all, an older man's perspectives on such tear-jerkers as "Lonely Mound of Clay" bears a more remarkable imprint of experience. And whether he lived them or not, Acuff always had an innate ability to interpret songs as if he had lived every word.

Acuff tackled "The Great Roy Acuff" for Capitol Records from 1953 and 1955. Though his best record-selling days had passed, quality remained steadfast. Few blunders exist from Acuff's seven-decade career, and for sure there are none here.

Country's hillbilly supreme surges forth with gusto on such fun fare as "Rushing Around," Howdy Forrester's fiddle-frying from the word go. No wonder he was such an attraction at the Grand Ole Opry. He hung a happy halo around such material as "Sunshine Special" like no one. But when he cried, no one wailed more. From most singers a song like "Oh Those Tombs" would strike as maudlin. Yet tears flow from Acuff's voice like a beautiful river of anguish, a master in full bloom. Live a hundred years, and you'll never hear another who sang country music like or as well.

And for those unfortunate souls who never heard the man in person on the Opry, these three albums will show you what you missed.