❉ We check out the new Ace compilation from Bob Stanley and Martin Green.
“Martin and Bob pinpoint the inspiration of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s “new country” to Bobbie Gentry’s Ode to Billie Joe… Its artists worked and lived not only in Nashville on the outskirts of the existing country music scene but also in LA, in many cases cutting their teeth as DJs and songwriters and writing for Elvis or Glen Campbell… Some artists later became big stars themselves – Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers and Bobbie Gentry herself who even had a 1968 BBC TV series of her own.”
Choctaw Ridge is the new compilation released on Ace Records and compiled by writer and musician Bob Stanley and DJ and writer Martin Green. As with most of Bob’s excellent previous Ace compilations Choctaw Ridge captures a moment in time, a kind of general atmosphere and feel of when things were on the cusp of changing. In this case it is the music created by the artists, songwriters and musicians of the “new country” era of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.
Songs that tell stories (often depressing one’s in the country tradition) but that sound influenced by the ambitious vocal and brass arrangements of the time. It’s not surprising that two Lee Hazelwood tracks appear on the album including the opener The House Song – a song about divorce. As with Hazelwood’s work, this “new” country seemed to moving in a new direction whilst still narrating stories about trapped lives, domestic violence and loneliness.
Both Martin and Bob pinpoint the origins and influence on this style directly to the release of Bobbie Gentry’s Ode to Billie Joe – the title of the album, of course, comes from the lyrics of the song.
Sometimes directly inspired by Ode to Billy Joe’s style these various artists worked and lived not only in Nashville on the outskirts of the existing country music scene but also in Los Angeles. In many cases cutting their teeth as DJs and songwriters and sometimes if lucky writing for Memphis period Elvis or Glen Campbell, these artists started to make records in their own right. Jerry Reed for example, whose song Endless Miles Of Highway appears on here, wrote two of the best late ‘60s period Elvis songs Guitar Man and US Male – as well as co-starring in Smokey and the Bandit! John Hartford (whose sleazy Mr Jackson Has Got Nothing To Do appears here) wrote Gentle On My Mind for Glen Campbell. Some artists later became big stars themselves – Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers and Bobbie Gentry herself who even had a 1968 BBC TV series of her own.
In the excellent liner notes, DJ and writer Martin Green details how he stumbled across a box of new country records in Romford market in the early eighties and discovered some of the artists who appear on this compilation – later playing them at a DJ night whilst standing next to snooker star and co DJ Steve Davies! Bob Stanley’s track by track descriptions are also as always informative and entertaining – great to learn for example that Jim Ford as well as probably falsely claiming to have written Ode to Billie Joe also appears on the cover of Sly and the Family Stone’s There’s A Riot Going On and also had his song 36 Inches High covered by Nick Lowe on Jesus of Cool!
There are many excellent tracks on the album. Tom T Hall’s track Strawberry Farms about life at an orphanage is haunting and sad. Chris Gantry’s If Only She Had Stayed is similarly haunting though does seem to be more than slightly influenced by Rogers & Hart’s My Funny Valentine and the Beatles’ Yesterday. Billy J Spears’ Mr Walker, It’s All Over is an honest description of office harassment and Jeannie C Riley’s The Back Side of Dallas talks about someone finding themselves in a dead-end situation.
Kenny Rogers’ hit Ruby, Don’t take your love to town (which I didn’t know was a cover version of a song about the Korean War but do now thanks to Martin Green’s excellent liner notes) was great to hear again as was Joanne by ex-Monkee Michael Nesmith.
Lee Hazelwood’s Alone, a duet with his pre-Nancy partner Suzi Jane Hokom, sounds great with its Jack Nitzsche arrangements . Sammi Smith’s Saunders’ Ferry Lane is another beautiful and haunting track and Charlie Rich’s I Feel Like Going Home is an epic closing track to another great compilation from Ace.
❉ ‘Choctaw Ridge: New Fables of the American South 1968 to 1973’ is released 30 July 2021 on CD and LP by Ace Records: Click here to order the CD directly from Ace Records, RRP £11.50. | Click here to order the LP directly from Ace Records, RRP £29.01.
❉ James Collingwood is based in West Yorkshire and has been writing for a number of years. He currently also writes for the Bradford Review magazine for which he has conducted more than 30 interviews and has covered music, film and theatre.