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Various Artists

Park Avenue Hillbillies and West End Cowboys – 2001 (Collectors' Choice Music)

Reviewed by Jon Johnson

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Make no mistake: Stone cold country this ain't. In fact, this stuff makes Tim McGraw sound like Ernest Tubb by comparison. But that's not the point. This generous 25-song collection captures a period when the population displacements of the '30's and '40's saw large numbers of rural southerners moving to cities as never before in search of work. To many city dwellers, the southerners seemed as exotic and primitive as someone from Bali, and a whole subgenre of pop music exploring rural themes and stereotypes sprang up as a result. And, as with the Hawaii/Polynesian-themed records of the '50's, the public couldn't get enough of it.

Front and center are 10 cuts from Dorothy Shay, nowadays regarded as perhaps the most important figure of the faux hillbilly period, and a regular on "The Waltons" until her death in 1978. Though extremely popular during her late '40's heyday, little of Shay's music has been available in decades. And that's a real shame since Shay was a born star, blessed with good looks, a great voice, and strong material and arrangements, particularly on "Feudin' and Fightin'" (recently covered by Martf Brom) and "Joan of Arkansaw."

Probably the best-remembered material today comes from Dinah Shore, whose "Doin' What Comes Natur'lly" (backed by western swing bandleader Spade Cooley) and "Buttons and Bows" turn up here, as does Doris Day's "It's a Quiet Town (In Crossbone County)."

Also on hand are three numbers from '50's TV kingpin Arthur Godfrey, whose "Slap 'Er Down Again, Paw" should leave fans of progressive child-rearing methods reeling in slack-jawed amazement. And the Four Lads' "Way Out West" is nothing short of hilarious, not least for its oh-we're-the-boys-in-the-chorus earnestness.

All in all, a humorous and downright charming collection of music documenting some of the earliest attempts at a sort of pop/country crossover.