- Number of Discs: 4
- Released: February 23, 1998
- Label: Bear Family
Personnel includes: Jim Reeves, Chet Atkins, Jean Shepard, Del Wood, Benny Martin, The Louvin Brothers, Stringbean, Carl Butler, The Blue Boys.
Includes an interview with Jim Reeves by Don Davis.
Contains 117 tracks.
If you are a country music fan, especially classic country music fan, than you no doubt have a strong opinion on Jim Reeves. He's either the Caruso of the genre or a pop sellout who brought about the ruin of the original, raw honky-tonk music, along with Chet Atkins, in favor of the countrypolitan sound. For those in the latter group, one listen to these radio transcriptions will change your mind forever. They were recorded for a show called "Country Music Time" for the U.S. Air Force over a period of a decade or so. These shows have long been buried in the Reeves vault, and were released to the folks at Bear Family by Mary Reeves, Jim's widow. Here's the rub: most of the tunes here will be well known to Reeves fans. There are classics such as "Am I Losing You," "Yonder Comes a Sucker," "Evening Prayer," "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You," "Four Walls," "Blue Boy," "Til The End of the World," and dozens of others. But there are also songs that even fans don't associate with Reeves that make their debuts here, many of them not on his recordings. The stunningly beautiful version of Woody Guthrie's "Oklahoma Hills" is one, and also his versions of Jimmy Rodgers' tunes, like "Waitin' for a Train," and Leon Payne's "Pride Comes Before a Fall." There are often two or three versions of a single tune like "Am I Losing You" or Roger Miller's "Billy Bayou," and two of "Evening Prayer." But in the different versions, recorded over the years, what becomes readily apparent is the change in Reeves' singing style -- it become a gorgeous strolling country baritone that effortlessly glides from one place to the next without jumping for a note. These latter performances are deeply moving for their range and diversity, but also for their considerable soulfulness. Another myth the box dispels is that Reeves was a studio construct. All of these sessions were recorded live, with cats who weren't usually part of his regular band. Literally, these shows were made with Nashville sessionmen learning the music on the fly, or performers who were familiar with it from some other source. Live Reeves is devastating in his originality and in his ability to communicate even the corniest lyric, such as Fred Rose's "Roly Poly." And on the ballads that were later layered in syrup by Atkins on studio recordings, such as "Anna Marie," and "Am I Losing You?," Reeves reaches deep into his gut for the right inflection to make the song authentic. Also, on "He'll Have to Go" and "Making Believe," the artist, according to Johnny Cash, had the servicemen silent and on the edge of their seats. Here too, these performances may just be the definitive recorded ones. An added bonus to the Reeves performances is the appearance of special guests on the radio programs, such as the Louvin brothers, Atkins, Jean Shepard, Wanda Jones (singing the hell out of Tompall Glaser's "You're Making a Fool out of Me"), pedal steel giant Del Wood, Tommy Jackson, Archie Campbell, and many others, including, of course, the Blue Boys. Given that the song repetition isn't a nuisance -- and it cannot be stressed enough what a boon it actually is -- the only sticking point on the set is the continued use of the intro and outro of the theme to mark each new show. This does indeed get old, hearing the traditional "Beaumont Rag" throughout the set. That's what a remote control is for, however, and the skip button becomes a handy tool. But this is a small annoyance when the listener gets nearly 100 stellar Reeves performances, a couple of handfuls of other rare country classics, priceless documentation by Larry Jordan, and a slew of photographs on four pristinely mastered CDs. ~ Thom Jurek