Louisiana Hayride (series) Classic Country Radio Volumes 1-4
Classic Country Gospel Volumes 1-2
Classic Country Comedy Volumes 1

Music Mill Entertainment (www.musicmill.com)

cd cover Back in the days when country music was truly country, its beacon was not only transmitted by disc jockeys but live radio broadcasts. One such show was the legendary Louisiana Hayride, the brainchild of station KWKH in Shreveport, Louisiana. Following the popularity of The Grand Ole Opry, The Big D Jamboree and the WLS Barn Dance, the program's first incarnation ran from 1948-60 until it was run off the road by rock-n-roll and television. A second incarnation ran from 1973-87 but since then, the Hayride has been all but a memory.

For most classic country fans, this individually packaged, seven-volume set will bring back memories. Though the dates of particular performances are not given, they were taken from both incarnations. Some cuts may be rougher in places than others but that's all a factor of age and condition of the tapes and the technology employed at the time. The first four discs feature the day's biggest performing artists like the high lonesome George Jones ("Why Baby Why," "Color of the Blues," "The Race Is On"), the easily identifiable Johnny Cash ("Hey Porter") and the silky crooning of Jim Reeves ("Red Eyed & Rowdy," "Am I Losing You"). Additionally, there are cuts upon cuts that define the essence of country music as opposed to jet-slick 70's recycled rock machine country music that can't be killed today. In that vein, there's Johnny Horton's "Honky Tonk Man," Faron Young's "Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young" and T. Texas Tyler's "Courtin' in the Rain." Perhaps because of his untimely death, there's only one Hank Williams' cut but if you're gonna have any Hank, it might as well be "Jambalaya" as heard on Volume One. There's even Roy Acuff singing the all-time favorite "Wabash Cannonball" and the similar sounding "Pan American" from a lesser-known Hawkshaw Hawkins.

The two Classic Gospel Radio volumes raise Saturday night's barroom living up to Sunday morning sensibility. Most selections usually have a piano leading the proceedings and the focus usually centers around the group's vocal dynamics, like the Jordanaires' "Thank You Jesus," the Plainsmen Quartet's "Rock of Ages," or the Deep South Quartet's "I'll Tell the World." Many of the aforementioned stars, like Jones, are also included in these gospel segments. As sincere as they were about their honky tonkin' as a legitimate art form, they're just as devoted here.

The last volume in the series is the Classic Comedy Radio featuring the country hick humor of Rod Brassfield, Archie Campbell and Ferlin Husky. The 13 tracks with the incomparable Minnie Pearl, the campy starlet who practically patented her high-pitched 'howdy!,' are priceless as her self-effacing wit was actually keener than it originally appeared. Cajun humorist Justin Wilson appears on five more that, along with the Pearl bits, are the highlights of these 31 tracks.

As interesting and historical as these recordings may be, the packaging leaves a lot to be desired. With the exception of the comedy sets, each CD contains ten tracks for a total disc playing time of 30 minutes each. Music Mill Entertainment's price tag of $14.95 is a bit pricey when most historical-interest recordings usually have at least a half-dozen more tracks for the same price. Add the fact that the three-paragraph liner notes read exactly the same on each disc and a lot of information is grossly left out. A program of this magnitude deserves more of its story being told. It would have been desirable to have the dates of each live recording as the selections bounce between both eras.

Still, it's conceivable that this series could pique interest in classic country music that's been one of America's greatest gifts to the musical world. There's a lot here to rediscover. It's just unfortunate that its packaging design wasn't better implemented. - Dan Willging

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