This is a set that is straight out of left field. In 2008, country music singing and songwriting legend David Frizzell decided to cut a different kind of album. He assembled a who's who of country music from one of its most vital yet bygone eras by today's slick standards, as Nash Vegas has decided to literally forget the still vital artists who helped to establish it as one of the most potent forces in American popular music. Frizzell's This Is Our Time lays down a convincing argument that these artists are every bit as viable as they were back when they were reigning on the charts. Featured here is a set of his own songs and covers, sung as solos and duets with friends. There are some very big names: Crystal Gayle, Merle Haggard, Johnny Rodriguez, and Bobby Bare make up the best known, but the next-tier artists are just as important. They include Jeannie Seely, Gene Watson, T. Graham Brown, Johnny Lee, Lacy J. Dalton, Helen Cornelius, and Jimmy Fortune, to name just a few. The beauty besides the music lies in the fact that Frizzell doesn't give a damn about enlisting any current Nashville A-list or Billboard-charting talent. He's got plenty right here.
The set opens -- rather than closes -- with a group number. It's the title track, written by Frizzell, Tom Botkin, and Kevin Denney, and incorporates within it the name lines of hits from every one of these performers. That said, it is easily displaced by some of the other performances here. For starters, there's "Wedding Dress for Sale," with Gayle. Neither her voice nor Frizzell's has been touched by time. The empathic communication between the two is stellar, and Frizzell's tune is one of those brilliant stories that has been part and parcel of the country music tradition since the beginning. This is followed by a killer version of Roger Alan Wade's"Warm Spanish Wine," a duet with Rodriguez. Its sad beauty conjures memories of Marty Robbins, Ronnie Milsap, and Freddy Fender. While the version of "Long Black Veil" here -- recorded with Watson -- doesn't replace Johnny Cash's classic version, it is a killer nonetheless. Hag and Frizzell team up on brother Lefty's "If You Got the Money, I've Got the Time." Haggard has recorded it before and so has Frizzell, but together they capture the party-time joy in the lyric with a classic honky tonk swing melody. The rockin' country of "Cowboy Hat" belongs to Bare and Frizzell. The former's big throaty baritone owns the tune, but it's a stellar moment from country music's outlaw era. The raw sensuality between Helen Cornelius and Frizzell on "Could It Be We Fell in Love Tonight" offers an accurate portrayal of love breaking through the bonds of lust. The track "Three Minutes" is a stellar trio number between David, brother Allen, and Allen's daughter Tess Frizzell (whose mother is Shelly West). Tess is perhaps the most welcome surprise in the bunch, coming up from a new generation. The woman's voice is all killer, no filler. The other up-and-comer is Arkansan Amy Clawson, one of the youngsters of the group at only 34, who appears on the songwriter's "Why Wasn't It Me," and the older style of material suits her beautifully. The solo numbers are no less effective here -- Frizzell is a writer of real consequence and always has been, despite the fact that his deceased older brother has overshadowed him. Check the two-step honky tonker "No Regrets" or the lilting ballad "Dream of Angels" for rock-hard proof. Included in the package is a DVD that features an intimate, warts-and-all video documentary on the making of the album. This goes as far as the album in revealing that these artists still possess their gifts (even in some cases if their voices are lower). This is well done and one of the dark-horse candidates for indie album of the year in country.