Many know him only for his flashy rhinestone-clad Nudie suits and hearty guffaw as long-time host for the Grand Ol’ Opry, yet pound for pound the 1950s and ’60s output of Porter Wagoner for RCA Records is about as good as C&W ever got. Pushing 80 and still a regular Opry host, Wagoner’s recordings in recent years have been mostly small label gospel affairs. With his debut for Anti Records called Wagonmaster (named for his long-time band), the pompadoured Thin Man from West Plains, Missouri joins a label whose roster includes Tom Waits, Mavis Staples, Neko Case and the late Elliot Smith. Much like they did with a couple of Merle Haggard projects from earlier in the decade, Anti adopt a hands-off approach turning the reigns over to Marty Stuart, who produced the record and whose band provides more than stelalr backing. Retro but with a modernist tinge, the album moves from knee-slapping hot steppers to spirituals to the dark side of the honky tonk (a cover of Johnny Cash’s chilling “Committed to Park View” is a bold move). Simply put, Wagonmaster wears like vintage Wagoner. (Visit www.anti.com.)
(Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 – 9 pm on WRIU-FM 90.3. He lives in Peace Dale and can be reached at [email protected])<...