When the hits stop coming, country labels move on; loyalty is fleeting, never mind 19 number 1 hits (14 consecutive), more than 40 Top 10 songs, and 15 years with a label. Buck Owens found that out in the mid-'70s as his contract with Capitol was coming to an end, and the label shelved his final album of new material.
Unheard since that time except through the expansive Bear Family box-set "Tall Dark Stranger," these recordings hold interest for those who appreciate encountering previously rare, archival material. Riding high with Hee Haw, Owens was a household name in 1975, regarded as one of country music's biggest stars. Still, his denouement as a recording artist had begun. Long-time and essential musical foil Don Rich had passed the previous year, Owens was in the midst of a resulting depression, and the charts had turned: his last number one, "Made In Japan," had been three years earlier, and the album prior to these sessions had produced a solitary single, the derivative number 19 "41st Street Lonely Hearts' Club."
It is unlikely "Country Singer's Prayer" would have reversed this trend. Its initial single, a hepped-up take of "Battle of New Orleans" stalled outside the country top 50, and the schmaltzy title track didn't even get that far. Capitol pulled the pin, and the expected album was replaced by yet another hits collection. Unfortunately, the proffered singles were among the weakest tracks Owens and his ace Buckaroos laid out during these, largely, 1975 sessions.
The album kicks off with "John Law" and a shout out to Don Rich ("Me and big Don was a-gettin' it on in a club down in New Orleans, and when it was over we got half-loaded and picked up a couple of queens"), one of only two songs featuring Rich's guitar- and fiddle-playing. The Buckaroos roar through this tour of poor decision-making and Crescent City justice.
While "Country' Singer's Prayer" doesn't match Owens' strongest albums, there is much to appreciate within the compact 31-minute set. "He Ain't Been Out Bowling With The Boys" and "Drifting Away" are both satisfying country songs and reveal Owens' range as a singer. The rambling "Love Don't Make the Bars," "How's Everything" and "California Oakie" are fairly strong songs given fine interpretation by Owens and the Buckaroos including Don Lee (guitar), Jim Shaw (keyboards), Doyle Curtsinger (bass) and Jimmy Wiggins (drums).
The yearning "A Different Kind of Sad" is the album's strongest performance, with steel from either Terry Christofferson or Jerry Brightman and Jana Jae's fiddle augmenting the mournful timbre of the song.
A pair of b-sides rounds out the collection, the playful "Run Him to the Round House Nellie (You Might Corner Him There)" and a questionable final track featuring Rich, "Meanwhile Back at the Ranch." Informative notes by Scott B. Bomar incorporating interviews with recording and songwriting principals are included. A few of these songs were re-recorded by Owens, without noted success, for subsequent Warner Bros. albums.
"Country Singer's Prayer" provides Buck Owens the deserving epilogue Capitol denied in 1975.