Buck Owens – Tall Dark Stranger: The Buck Owens & The Buckaroos Recordings 1969-1975
1970 was notable for the recording of “Down In New Orleans” and “Reno Lament,” which are two of his lesser-known gems that deserve a listen. The next year would see Buck achieve some of his greatest work. His Bridge Over Troubled Water album – while not hailed by purists, contained a powerful version of the Simon & Garfunkel classic (with soaring harmony from Rich), and a song that I think might have been the best he ever cut – “The Devil Made Me Do That.” The album, combined with his Bluegrass follow up Ruby, showed that even as he was becoming more known for Hee Haw, the artist was still creating. The latter album is notable for his and Rich’s take on “I Know Your Married (But I Love You Still),” made famous by Reno & Smiley, and Don’s fiddle work on “Uncle Pen,” which is one of the best fiddle solos I have ever heard.
After these albums, Owens became hit or miss. “Made In Japan” was a classic from 1972, but his tendency to re-record songs from the past could be a little frustrating. Of course, Capitol was releasing so much of his material (nine albums in 1971 alone) that he had to something to keep up. The remakes weren’t bad recordings – in fact, “There Goes My Love” was actually superior to the original, but the decline in his career could very much be attributed to that decision.
Things turned around in 1973-1974, with “Big Game Hunter,” “On The Cover Of The Music City News,” and the Halloween standard “It’s A Monster’s Holiday.” Each song – though a novelty song was a top ten hit. He followed those recordings with the understated classic “Great Expectations,” which receives release on CD for the first time here. Sadly, that would be the final top ten hit for Owens on Capitol. It would also be the final hit to feature Rich, who was killed in a motorcycle accident in July 1974.
While Owens admits to going through the motions after that, he still turned in a few good performances. “Drifting Away” was one that really impressed me, as well as “California Okie,” which he later re-recorded (!) during his Warner Brothers years.
Kudos go to Bear Family for finishing up the final years of Owens’ 1957-1975 deal with Capitol. I think fans will be surprised in some spots here. While he was drifting as a recording artist during this time, the best of what is here stands with his all-time best. For the sake of collectors, I would love to see Bear Family document his Warner Brothers years, as well as his return to Capitol in 1988, but if not, making all of these recordings available to the public is one of their best moves of all time