Porter Wagoner never made his reputation as a traditionalist, but he's never wavered from his hardcore honky-tonk roots, so in today's market he sounds more like a folk artist than a country singer. Wagoner turns eighty this year, but on Wagonmaster he sounds youthful, ornery, and, at time, downright dangerous. The program is a mixed bag of unexpected delights. He revisits a batch of obscurities from his massive back catalogue, including "Albert Erving," the lonesome tale of an old bachelor who lives in a homemade cabin with his imaginary girlfriend; the twang-heavy "A Fool Like Me," and "Satan's River," originally cut as a duet with Dolly Parton. Producer Marty Stuart arranges them with an understated hand, dropping plenty of pedal steel and fiddle into the mix. New tunes include "Eleven Cent Cotton," a timely tale of hard work and hard times co-written with Stuart, and the chilling "Committed to Parkview," a peek inside the asylum where Wagoner spent some time. Johnny Cash, who did a stint at the same institution, wrote the tune and sent it to him years ago, but this is its first recording. It's a harrowing parable that details the pitfalls of fame, and is given added drama by Wagoner's dry spoken introduction.
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