When it comes to western swing and honky tonk, the "western" branch of "country and western," Hank Thompson is the real McCoy. Heck, hes been around so long, he probably knew the real McCoys, and the real Hatfields too. Thompson made his first records in the late '40s, after serving in the Navy in WWII. That was a while ago. Think about it -- 78s, 45s, LPs, 8-Tracks, Cassettes, CDs, MP3 -- his rich baritone has been on all of them.
Still, on Seven Decades, a career retrospective of new recordings, he sounds as fresh as ever. His covers range from the traditional war-horses "Abdul Abubul Emir" and "The Wreck of the Old 97" to Jimmie Rodgers "In the Jailhouse Now," Nat King Coles "Dinner for One, Please James" and the Kingston Trios "Scotch and Soda." All get the western-swing treatment with such ease that you marvel that Thompson didnt write them himself.
And the originals are up to the quality of the covers. Thompson has a sly sense of humor, which he uses to great effect on "Sting in this Ole Bee," a wry rumination on the aging process and how it only affects quantity, not quality, and "Condo in Hondo," a Tejano-influenced cowboys pitch for going soft. "Medicine Man" is a hilarious homage to the old traveling snake-oil salesmen, one of the last of which Thompson claims to have seen back in the '30s (he does not indicate whether he fell for it). "The Night Miss Nancy Anns Hotel for Single Girls Burned Down," while not written by Thompson, is an amusing poke at the hypocrisy of local community leaders who come pouring out of a building of questionable repute when it catches on fire.
Thompsons band, consisting of two fiddles, steel guitar, lead guitar, upright bass, piano, drums, and occasional accordion and back-up vocals, is smooth and professional. They swing perfectly to his warm, tongue-in-cheek vocals.
Theres nothing deep, angry, or controversial on Seven Decades. If that is what you are looking for, look elsewhere. If youre a fan of traditional western swing, Seven Decades is a showcase for one of the originals who obviously loves what he does and is still at the top of his game. I hope he eventually releases Eight Decades.
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