That Wild, Wicked, But Wonderful Westby Johnny Bond
This is a jewel of an album, Bond's very first for the Starday label, and one that deserves to be at least as well-known as Marty Robbins' Gunfighter Ballads. The selection of material is rich and diverse, and the production is fairly elaborate. Bond is joined by the Sons of the Pioneers' Karl Farr on guitar, and his playing lives up to its extraordinary reputation on most of the songs. A churchy organ comes to the fore on "The Fool's Paradise," and a honky tonk piano carries the band on a jaunty performances of "The Bully" and "Sadie Was a Lady." Bond was one of the players on Tex Ritter's original recording of "High Noon," and he recorded that Western film classic himself for this album. His voice isn't as effective as Ritter's, but he puts a lot of feeling into the performance, his acoustic guitar backed by an ominous drumbeat and more of that church-style organ. "Wonders of the Wasteland" has an almost lyrical content, and Bond achieves an almost preternatural presence on the song, reveling in that imagery. There's also one stripped-down gem here, "Belle Starr," which sounds like a mid-'20s field recording, with all of the raw, direct power that implies. Bond's version of "Carry Me Back to the Lone Prairie" may be the best recording that this Western standard has ever received; this track and the soaring, romantic "Dusty Skies" by themselves make this record worth owning. Of the two narrative songs, "Conversation With a Gun" works and "The Deadwood Stage" doesn't, but overall this is a fine recording by an underappreciated country star of yesteryear.
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