Lefty Frizzell was a major force in shaping today's country music. Male singers who come along usually cite George Jones and/or Merle Haggard as their influences, maybe even George Strait. But where do we suppose Merle and the Georges learned how to sing? Frizzell had an unusual career. He exploded onto the scene in 1951 in a burst not seen before or since, having at one point four songs in the Top Ten at the same time. Just two years later he was a fallen star, with only intermittent success following amidst a long trail of flops.
At his best, he was unmatched as a vocalist, inventing the elongated syllables that have become so standard. As with most of his peers, Frizzell's original music has not always been readily available to American consumers. The versions that were around in the era of the vinyl LP were modernized rerecordings made long past his (and his style of music's) prime. Rhino issued a CD with 18 of his original hits-great but too slender for an artist of Frizzell's stature. Columbia/Legacy has gathered together those 18 plus 16 more, less well known but still fine. Of those additions, "Cigarettes and Coffee Blues" (one of the few remaining hits) and "Sick Sober And Sorry," a duet with Johnny Bond, are the best. "Look What Thoughts Will Do" is subtitled "The Essential Lefty Frizzell," and indeed it is.