November 2000

Hank Thompson - Seven Decades HighTone HCD8121
Released: 2000

by Marc Rigrodsky

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

[Reviewed on CD]When it comes to western swing and honky tonk, the "western" branch of "country and western," Hank Thompson is the real McCoy. Heck, he’s 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 Cole’s "Dinner for One, Please James" and the Kingston Trio’s "Scotch and Soda." All get the western-swing treatment with such ease that you marvel that Thompson didn’t 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 cowboy’s 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 Ann’s 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.

Thompson’s 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.

There’s nothing deep, angry, or controversial on Seven Decades. If that is what you are looking for, look elsewhere. If you’re 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.