The late Keith Whitley, who died at age 33 of acute alcohol
poisoning, was an example of why it isn’t always a good idea to try to live
your lyrics if you’re country music singer. He started as a child, singing on
the radio by age 9. At 15 Keith was touring with Ralph Stanley’s Clinch
Mountain Boys. Keith met Ricky Skaggs while he was with Stanley and went on to
cut a bluegrass duo album with him. Next Keith joined J.D. Crowe’s New South as
their lead singer. Their album “Somewhere Between” features his spine
tingling, bent-note lead singing. His solo career began with the trajectory of
a rocket. He had three number one singles in one year and a promising future
was virtually assured. Then came tragic death and the possibility of obscurity.
“Sad Songs and Waltzes” is a breathtakingly beautiful
CD with a pervasive air of tragedy that settles like a mist over your listening
room when you put it on your stereo. From the first Lefty Frizzell cut, “I
Never Go Around Mirrors,” to the final chords of Dycus’ and Barnes’
“Family Tree” this album oozes the essence of traditional country
music like the smell of spilled whisky wafting up from an ancient bare wood floor.
For anyone who is tired of the shallow gloss of hot country, these songs
delivered with heartfelt purity, are as welcome as rain after a mid-summer
drought. Even if you play it regularly over many years, as I have, this disc
never gets old; there’s just too much great music.
If you are already a Keith Whitley fan, unfortunately you won’t
find any new material here. The songs were culled from two sessions; a spring
1983 solo venture, and songs done for “Somewhere Between” by J.D.
Crowe and the New South. Top-flight
musicians including the late Randy Howard on fiddle, Weldon Myrick on pedal
steel, Ricky Rector and Jeff White on acoustic guitars, Kenny Malone on drums,
Pete Wade on electric guitar, and J.D. Crowe on banjo. Wes Hightower, Alison
Krauss, Dale Ann Bradley, and the Jordanaires all contribute backing vocals
throughout the album.
Most of the material here was originally recorded in 1982 and
1983. Mastering Engineer Denny Purcell at Georgetown Masters did a superlative
job freshening up this older material. My original copy has HDCD encoding. It’s
hard to tell without buying another disc whether the current production discs
still have HDCD encoding, but I suspect that they do.
If you like traditional country music and you don’t have all of Keith Whitley’s recordings, you need this album. It’s as perfect as country, or any other kind of music gets.