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Various Artists

Grand Ole Opry Live Classics – 2007 (Cracker Barrel)

Reviewed by Jason MacNeil

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The Grand Ole Opry and Cracker Barrel Restaurants have had a long relationship. So what better way to celebrate that partnership than with an impressive, five-disc collection highlighting some of the finest moments on the Opry stage. Although divided into various categories, the songs and the stars are a who's who of Nashville's glory days from the '50s, '60s and '70s. And the quality of the recordings is perhaps what makes the collection shine from start to finish.

The first disc, "Great Number 1 Hits," kicks off with Ernest Tubb performing "Walking The Floor Over You," while Sonny James sings his signature "Young Love" with the applause from the audience off in the distance. Softer heart-tugging ballads like Bill Anderson's "Still" seem to complement the slightly up-tempo charmers such as Marty Robbins' "El Paso" and especially "Hello Walls" featuring Willie Nelson and Faron Young.

Perhaps the highlight though is Tammy Wynette's "I Don't Wanna Play House" with its simple story and pedal steel accents. Wynette, featured four times on this collection, gives a great and timeless performance. From there, the homestretch stays just as strong with The Man In Black delivering "Folsom Prison Blues."

The second disc, "Great Love Ballads," lives up to its name as Hank Locklin's "Please Help Me I'm Falling (In Love With You)" is another nugget that sets the bar high for the ensuing 11 tracks. Whether it's the tender honky-tonk of Patsy Cline's "Leavin' On Your Mind" or Wynette's somber, slower "Till I Get It Right" that saunters along gracefully. The lone disappointment might be how Hank Snow's "Born To Lose" seems to be a letdown because of the slightly lower sound quality and hushed tone to the song.

Yet, this is quickly forgotten about with Dottie West performing "I Fall To Pieces" and other mid-tempo old school country signatures like Charlie Louvin's "I Think I'll Go Somewhere (And Cry Myself To Sleep)" and the pleasing "Walk Through This World" by Connie Smith, a song that sounds suited for Neko Case. The album ends on a high note fortunately with the precious "Together Again" by Jack Greene.

This high quality continues with "Legends Of The Opry." After Snow warbles through "I Don't Hurt Anymore," the album takes on a decidedly '70s era angle with many of the stars of that time performing the rest of the way. "Devil Woman" by Marty Robbins has a distinct Spanish flavoring to it, but this is offset somewhat by the quirky, comedic "May The Bird Of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose" by Jimmy Dickens.

However, this oddity is quickly forgotten when George Jones delivers his classic "The Grand Tour" and the punchy toe-tapping "Oh Lonesome Me" by Don Gibson. The strong delivery by Loretta Lynn on "One's On The Way" makes one yearn for that country era to return again. The same can be said for the shuffling Waylon Jennings nugget "Stop The World And Let Me Off." The disc also contains some of the earlier stars of the Opry, including The Carter Family keeping on the sunny side of life, while Bill Monroe churns out "Uncle Pen."

Perhaps the weakest disc of the five here is "Opry Gospel," beginning with a rather routine "I'll Fly Away" by Roy Acuff that seems to miss the mark despite the traces of Luke The Drifter heard in his voice. And Mother Maybelle Carter also doesn't quite live up to expectations with "Meeting In The Air."

Monroe's "One Of God's Sheep" thankfully is a very strong effort as is "I Am A Pilgrim," both garnering praise from the audience before the bluegrass legend. Another song worth its salt is "In The Garden" by the Glaser Brothers while the Willis Bros' "The Ragged Cross," with its accordion, still makes a good impression. The gem of this album though is the closing Flatts and Scruggs picking fest entitled "Cryin' Holy Unto The Lord".

Finally, but certainly not least, "Great Ladies Of Country Music" rounds the collection off perfectly, with the leading belles such as Cline performing "She's Got You" and Dolly Parton's "Jolene" being obvious keepers. However, others like Lynn and Dottie West are no slouches with "Blue Kentucky Girl" and "Here Comes My Baby Back Again."

While the albums might not be the easiest to get your hand on, you would be wise to seek them out if interested in a country era never to be seen again.