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Sixteen Tons – His 30 finest, 1949-57


1. Sixteen Tons

2. Milk 'Em in the Morning Blues

3. Tennessee Border

4. Country Junction

5. Smokey Mountain Boogie

6. Anticipation Blues

7. Blues, Stay Away from Me (Feat. Merle Travis)

8. Mule Train

9. The Cry of the Wild Goose

10. My Hobby

11. I'll Never Be Free (Feat. Kay Starr)

12. Ain't Nobody's Business But My Own (Feat. Kay Starr)

13. Bright Lights and Blonde-haired Women

14. The Shotgun Boogie

15. Tailor Made Woman

16. Stack-o-lee

17. The Strange Little Girl

18. Mister and Mississippi

19. Rock City Boogie

20. Hey, Good Lookin' (Feat. Helen O'Connell)

21. I'm Hog-tied Over You (Feat. Ella Mae Morse)

22. Blackberry Boogie

23. Hey, Mr. Cotton Picker

24. Catfish Boogie

25. The Honeymoon's Over (Feat. Betty Hutton)

26. Give Me Your Word

27. River of No Return

28. The Ballad of Davy Crockett

29. In the Middle of an Island

30. That's All

Tennessee Ernie Ford was a staple of the Country charts and rose to become a star on American television – he appeared on I Love Lucy and College of Musical Knowledge in the 1950s. He was a Nashville favourite and the tracks on this disc, recorded between 1949 and 1955, contain 17 Top Ten hits and four number ones.

The title track is actually a Merle Travis composition, but it suits Ford well and was, not unexpectedly, a Country No.1 in 1955. He slid lightly through the repertoire. There is the Vaudevillian Country Blues of Milk ‘em in the Morning Blues – Travis plays electric guitar on this one – and the generic Country Boogie of Smokey Mountain Boogie where Harold Hensley and Wade Ray are the fiddlers but who is the pianist not noted in the track listing? There’s some necessary yodelling on Anticipation Blues where Travis again provides some neat fills on electric guitar – a springy, sprightly, superficial number. Mule Train was a cut above and a big hit – No.1 in the Country charts, No. 9 in the US charts – and soon he was duetting with Kay Starr in I’ll Never Be Free. This was real crossover territory which he cemented with Starr in a fantastically up-tempo Ain't Nobody's Business But My Own – a number best immortalised two decades earlier via the stentorian minstrelsy of Frank Stokes.

By now there were novelty, populist additions to the roster, such as the Starlighters vocal group and the Carr-Hops, who help Ford turn in a truly risible Stack-o-Lee in Joe ‘Fingers’ Carr’s arrangement, for which no penance will suffice. The Dinning Sisters had at least listened to the Andrews Sisters so are much more acceptable even if the roster of souped-up traditional fare and cod Boogie was beginning to pall. Fortunately, there are still gems along the way - Hey, Good Lookin’ with Helen O’Donnell for one and the ever-wonderful Ella Mae Morse backed by Cliffie Stone and his orchestra. Give Me Your Word was backed by Billy May, and pretty elite backing one would have thought, but it offers a strange combination of quasi-concertante piano, odd recording quality and over-butch balladry.

The Ballad of Davy Crockett should bring a smile to the face and the final track, appropriately called That’s All and just as appropriately written by Merle Travis, has some genuinely witty lyrics. It’s a vein that Ford should have pursued elsewhere and dumped the commercial boogie pastiche, but then there was money to be made in them thar boogies.

Nice restorations and pertinent notes from the ever-reliable Peter Dempsey ensure another fine Retrospective.

Jonathan Woolf



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