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Hank Thompson

At the Golden Nugget – 1996 (Liberty Classics)

Reviewed by Roy Kasten

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CDs by Hank Thompson

Hank Thompson stood on the border of Western Swing and 60's honky-tonk. This reissue from 1961 is the first live country album, a great way to sample Thompson's craft. The first sounds are of a roulette wheel and a dealer calling, "We're gonna crank it up...." The casino floats in and out and, without distracting, adds vibrancy to the recording. The Brazos Valley Boys were probably the best big honky tonk group ever with Billy Gray as leader, Dubert Dobson on brassy but unobtrusive trumpet, Junior Nichols on bass, Billy Stewart on drums, Curly Lewis and Bob White on fiddles and Merle Travis on lead guitar. Lewis and White especially add shimmering counterpoint rather than leads (save on "Orange Blossom Special," which blazes like a comet). Travis' finger style runs sparkle brightly and Thompson's voice - by turns charming, steely, effortless, and flashy as a nudie suit - is the perfect companion to his jazzy colorings. And Thompson's singing on "John Henry" is subtle and thrilling; when he drawls "a cool drink of water 'fore I die, lord, lord," he rises to the inspired music around him.