Buck Owens; Ira Louvin; Ernest Tubb 

Young Buck (Audium); The Complete Recordings (Capitol Special Markets); The Definitive Hits Collection (Collector'S Choice)

There's a longstanding love/hate relationship between vintage country collectors and the major labels: fans revile the record companies for being stingy with the vast amount of material in their vaults, and corporations complain that nobody buys the oldies that they do reissue; the labels shunt classic country releases off onto ad-hoc specialty imprints, and fans must be quick on their feet to catch the good stuff when it comes out. Well, it's time to break out the track shoes, kids, 'cause there's a slew of classic recordings now out that have been eluding us for decades. Young Buck is the first official release comprising all of Buck Owens' mid-'50s, pre-Capitol singles in one place. The material ranges from nasal, bluesy, George Jones-style weepers to shameless attempts at rockabilly. It's not nearly as snappy as his brilliant, bouncy, Beatles-flavored hits from the '60s, but it's still a gas. Another holy grail of hick music is the only solo album ever released by Ira Louvin, the hard-drinking, hyper-religious older sibling of the famed Louvin Brothers duo. Originally released in 1965 after Louvin's fatal car crash, these tracks might surprise fans familiar with the bright, joyous harmony vocal style of the Louvins. Ira's solo work is darker and more classically honky-tonk, although on novelty numbers like "Who Throwed Dat Rock?" he keeps his old songwriting flair intact. Finally, there's probably the most overdue country release in America -- a two-CD collection of hits by Ernest Tubb, one of the greatest pioneers of Texas honky-tonk. More than any other country legend, Tubb suffered at the hands of history -- or rather, of MCA Records, which has kept the bulk of Tubb's material out of print for decades. At last we get a chance at Tubb without having to confront gigantic import box sets or the shamefully inadequate cheapie releases parsimoniously doled out here in the States. These two CDs are just about the right length for a comprehensive look at ET's legacy. Admittedly, Tubb was not the most versatile or inventive artist, but he was a remarkably sincere vocalist who brought lyrics fully to life (even though he croaked like a bullfrog with a bad cold). For true country fans, these are the glory days.... you just have to listen for the thunder to see where the lightning will strike.

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