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Various Artists

Caught in the Webb: A Tribute to the Legendary Webb Pierce – 2002 (Audium)

Reviewed by Jon Johnson

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Almost certainly the most popular figure of the post-Hank Williams honky-tonk era, Webb Pierce has long deserved a tribute album of this sort. And, were it not for the fact that Pierce had made a number of powerful enemies in Nashville during his long career, it probably would have happened long ago.

But the wait has been worth it. This is that rarest of tribute albums - one that satisfies on just about every level. Produced by longtime fan Gail Davies (whose 1978 debut single was a cover of Pierce's "No Love Have I," rendered here by Pam Tillis), Davies has tapped the cream of three generations of country traditionalists for this project; from twentysomethings Mandy Barnett and Allison Moorer to vets of Pierce's era like George Jones, Willie Nelson and Charley Pride. Dale Watson and The Jordanaires kick things off with a spirited rendition of "In the Jailhouse Now," and the action rarely lets up from there, with additional contributions from the likes of Dwight Yoakam, Rosie Flores, BR549, the Del McCoury Band and others, including producer Davies herself, making a Hitchcock-esque cameo with a spot-on "Love Love Love."

But though Pierce's hits continued into the early '70s, the best numbers here tend to date from his peak years of the 1950s. The duet between Robbie Fulks and Joy Lynn White on "Tupelo County Jail" almost makes a jailhouse romance sound pleasurable. George Jones' rendition of "Yes I Know Why" is a two-and-a-half minute crash course in the Jones vocal style, where a dive-bombing baritone turns into a heart-rending whine at the drop of a hat. And Emmylou Harris' half-whispered "Wondering" is as sexy as it is delicate; as though the longing invoked was enough to make the song itself crumble and blow away.

Though 2002 is but a few days old, this might just qualify as the tribute album of the year. Place your bets early.