When exploring Country Western music artists of the 1950s and 60s it can be quite daunting to know where to start as many were extremely prolific, riding wave after wave of chart aspiration and success. Such is the case of Buck Owens who was enormously popular back in the day, recording dozens of albums and singles all showcasing that groundbreaking, rhythm-fueled, twang-filled "Bakersfield Sound."
While you can certainly find a lot of Buck's albums on vinyl (used as well as new reissues), compact discs and Internet streams, it's a bit daunting to know which records are the "good" ones. Thus, it is useful find a comprehensive hits compilation. This is pretty much the focus of a recent series of Buck Owens retrospectives put out in 2018 by Omnivore Recordings.
These collections give you the singles in their original mixes that made him famous in the first place (again underscoring why this is a great place to begin as those are the tracks people first heard and responded to on radio back in the day).
Omnivore broke up Buck's career into chronological sections for a digestible snapshot of how this artist's career unfolded. There are several jam-packed double CD sets in the series including The Complete Capitol Singles: 1957-1966, The Complete Capitol Singles: 1967-1970, Buck 'Em: The Music Of Buck Owens (1955-1967) and Buck 'Em! Volume 2: The Music Of Buck Owens (1967-1975) There is also a bittersweet capper to the series, Buck's final unissued album from 1975 called Country Singer's Prayer. You can find Omnivore's Buck Owens' collections up on Amazon (direct links to them in the underlined, italicized titles throughout this review).
It is a pretty amazing study to hear Buck traverse the musical prairie of 1950s into the 1960s. Just consider, for example, the rockabilly-cum-doo-wop of early tracks like "Sweet Thing" and then jump over to the country-fried pop of "Who's Gonna to Mow Your Grass?", a 3/4 time swinger with a snarling distorted electric guitar solo that stops just short of a Wah Wah pedal in its embrace of the psychedelic late 1960s aesthetic. Great fun!
But there are other surprises such as a series of duets with Susan Raye, a singer I had not heard of before but who's voice works very well with Mr. Owens. Duets like this were a popular thing on the charts in 1960s and into 1970s.
Beyond Amazon, you can also find most of these fine Buck Owens compilations streaming in standard CD quality up on the Tidal music service if you have a subscription to it. I spot checked a handful of tracks there and they basically sound solid in 44.1 kHz, 16-bit resolution.
And, if this isn't enough,Omnivore has also put out a fine collection of solo tracks by Buck Owens' Pedal Steel Guitar player, Tom Brumley. Steelin' The Show is a terrific collection of mostly instrumentals with one guest vocal by Buck himself. For me, as a fan of all things Slide and Pedal Steel Guitar, this one is the star of the reissue series because it is so focused (and well recorded, I might add!). While you no doubt hear his playing on Buck's records, the focus there always comes back to Mr. Owens' voice. So this release is a treat for fans of this type of guitar playing and a tasty one at that. You can also hear Steelin' The Show up on Tidal by clicking here.
I'm going to be looking to see if there are any other recordings by Tom Brumley out there. This is the good stuff, folks!