Don Rich and the Buckaroos

That Fiddlin' Man – 2013 (Omnivore)

Reviewed by Rick Bell

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CDs by Don Rich and the Buckaroos

Buck Owens' drawl and Merle Haggard's gritty songwriting established the Bakersfield Sound, but it was Don Rich's fiery guitar picking for Owens' band the Buckaroos that carved out its distinctive twang. Tucked away in Bakersfield's dusty annals was Rich's fiddling. As this long-forgotten album reissue reveals, Rich also was an accomplished fiddler. His Buckaroos boss Owens normally featured a Don Rich fiddle tune on each record, and a Rich fiddle breakdown was a staple of Owens' live shows.

This record originally contained 10 songs - which would have clocked in at a brisk 16 minutes total - and now thankfully includes 10 additional cuts. While Rich easily glides from waltz to western swing to Cajun it's obvious that technically this guy is good, but that Rich's bread was buttered as Owens' guitarist, not as a fiddler.

This retrospective reveals that Rich lacked the style and flash that, for better or worse, define fiddlers. Orange Blossom Special is not particularly special, Faded Love lacks that wailing lonesome fiddle you'd get from Johnny Gimble, and the moody tenor of Greensleeves is merely plodding.

Not to say that Rich can't grind out some foot-stompers. His self-penned Tumwater Breakdown is a fun, lively romp, and the traditional number Bile 'Em Cabbage Down would've gotten them up at dance halls from Sacramento to Fresno. The bonus ultimately is this disc's rare glimpse into one of country music's all-time great bands. Check out Rich's fiddle playfully bouncing off the legendary Tom Brumley's steel guitar licks on Fishin' Reel.

Sure, Rich was a guitarist first. But as this record shows, his versatility helped define a sound while also making Owens' band one of the best of all time.