Released as part of Righteous‘ never-ending Lux and Ivy curios (I hope Ivy’s getting paid for them), this collection is a little bit of a cheat. Given the playground for depressing country music is, putting it mildly, vast, there are only 17 different artists included across the 30 tracks, leaving this as feeling more like a sampler than a curated compilation. Pretty sure there’s a difference, don’t think about it too much. There’s even a niggling feeling that some of the songs aren’t THAT depressing. Although not a bundle of laughs, you could listen to any Charlie Rich album and hear more tear-wrenching stuff. Country music is ripe for picking (the 1995 compilation “God Less America” on Crypt Records is essential listening) but this feels a little tentative. Absolutely fine for what it is but ultimately, these are the best scraps rather than tempura-battered cod.
Goldie Hill, a name new to me, kicks things off with “Call off the Wedding”, the drooping steel guitar sound becoming one which you will be intimately familiar by the end of the album. The lyrics are not so much depressing as decidedly odd, with the protagonist objecting strongly to her ex-lover marrying someone else and demanding he take her instead as, “her life is at stake now”. Far better is Don Gibson‘s “Lonely Street” – “I need a place to go and weep/where’s this place called Lonely Street?” Full-on sink-to-the-knees stuff, at just over two minutes it’s tear-sodden magnificence, a marker in the sand for woe-makers of all genres. Another big-hitter, George Jones, leads with “There’ll be No Teardrops Tonight”, which suffers, not for the only time on this collection, by being more than a little jaunty musically. It’s all very well that the lyrics tick the boxes but if it make you tap your foot, I’m not sure it can really quality as ‘most depressing’.
Hank Snow – probably not the Hank you’d really want on this album – features both solo and as part of duets with Anita Carter, all three of which are nice enough but unconvincing as emotional flag-waving. Patsy Cline delivers vocally, as you’d expect but I didn’t feel flattened by grief. Many of these tales of lost love or death or really no more depressing than those in any other genre, nor even any more numerous. Alas, one song really does begin to merge into another and the effect is verging on tedium but there are gems to jolt you awake – The Stanley Brothers‘ bluegrass harmonies may seem ephemeral but “Are You Afraid To Die?” comes across as less of a rallying cry to accept God in your life and more an outright threat that he’s coming to kick you into oblivion when you’re asleep. Magic! Likewise, the set’s closing track, “I’m Ready to Go Home” by the wonderful Louvin Brothers, hits the mark perfectly – a really unnerving combination of the sinister and the resigned, like a lap-steeled monk about to self-immolate.
Overall, this is somewhat stodgy stuff with not enough zingers to burst through the humdrum. Paradoxically, it’s simply not depressing enough!