A Tombstone Every Mile [Bear Family]
For a man who was regarded as a cult artist for most of his career, Dick Curless was certainly able to surround himself with the cream of the crop when it came to producers and sidemen, among whom are listed Buck Owens, Tommy Collins, James Burton, Ralph Mooney, Harold Bradley, Pete Drake, David Duke (not that one), and a slew of others. Tombstone Every Mile, the name of Curless' first bona fide hit in 1964, is a Bear Family collection that compiles 191 tracks over seven CDs. It is an exhaustive collection of everything Curless recorded for Tower, Event, Alagash, Standard, and Tiffany from 1950 through 1969. He signed with Capitol in 1970, and there's another box covering that period. Curless recorded until finishing his last album literally days before his death in 1995. While this set documents the singer/songwriter's first forays into Ernest Tubb-style honky tonk, it spends a great deal of time displaying his roots in the Bakersfield sound pioneered by Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and others and his transition into making "truck driver's music" -- mostly because his cult was made of truckers, not because he wrote for them exclusively. Virtually every kind of country music is documented here, from honky tonk barnburners to gospel tunes to love ballads to novelty tunes to cowboy songs and classic ballads. There are train songs and pain songs, truck songs and mama songs. His readings of tunes by Lefty Frizzell, Red Simpson, Merle Travis, Don Gibson, Billy Mize, Buck Owens, Johnny Cash, Haggard, Collins, public domain tunes such as "Streets of Laredo," and his own early efforts established him as a great stylist and singer as well as a keen interpreter -- his version of Cash's "I Walk the Line" is only eclipsed by the master's. Curless' repertoire covered the entire history of the music as it came down from the Carter Family. There are over a dozen complementary unreleased masters here, making this a must for the country collector, and to have the material organized in such painstaking chronologically recorded fashion adds depth and dimension to Curless' development as an artist. Ultimately, if you are at all a fan, this set and his final album, Traveling Through on the Rounder label, are the things to have. The Capitol period is good, it's just not revelatory like this stuff is.