If you ever meet someone who wants to understand the appeal of bluegrass and country music, play them this record. The album title, taken from a line from Harlan Howard, says it all. It’s the stories. Yes, they may be stretched a bit and, yes, they may not apply to most of us, but there is still something compelling and involving in them, something that goes beyond the teenage angst of rock music or the fantasy world of pop.
This project contains 11 songs, all of them from country music. Some, such as “He Stopped Loving Her Today” or the jaunty “Blue, Blue Day,” are quite well-known. Others, “The Devil’s Train” written by Cliff Carlisle or “Things Have Gone To Pieces” by Leon Payne, are lesser-known, though no less entertaining. All of them tell stories and paint pictures. No one is better suited to a project like this than James King. He and his wonderfully world-weary baritone get right to the heart of a song, be it the pointed look at the “Sunday Morning Christian” professing one day, but cheating the rest of the week, or be it the sadness he brings when he sings You don’t know about lonely until it’s chiseled in stone (from “Chiseled In Stone”). King starts singing and you see the whole picture. So, too, the down-and-outer from Billy Joe Shaver’s “Old Five And Dimers” and the guy now all alone and “Talkin’ To The Wall.”
As good as King is, and he is dead-on good, he has help from some of the best in the business, most specifically brilliant backup singing from Dudley Connell and Don Rigsby, and the playing of guitarist Josh Williams, fiddler Jimmy Mattingly, banjoist Ron Stewart, mandolinist Jesse Brock, and bassist Jason Moore. Recordings don’t get much better than this. (Concord Music Group, 100 N. Crescent Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210, www.rounder.com.)BW