Wednesday, July 14, 2010

ROW: Porter Wagoner – The Rubber Room (Omni)

A countrified, pompadoured progenitor of Tom Waits, Porter Wagoner was also a true American original. He built a personal music empire in the shadow of the Grand Ole Opry and did it by mining some of the rawest and weirdest emotional ore in the history of music. This Omni compilation taps liberally from that particular topical vein with songs recounting madness, murder, alcoholism, sexual abuse, and worse in a manner that neither wallows nor makes light of the sins. There are also healthy helpings of kitsch with female back-up choirs, top Nashville session men and production values, and most prominently, Wagoner’s winsome, deadpan delivery. The whole persona, dubbed “psychotronic” by his PR posse, reflected in his purple, sequin-encrusted “Nudie” suit replete with stylized wagon wheels and cacti (reportedly just one of sixty in his wardrobe). His lyrics are often near poetry, but it’s his measured sung to spoken voice that makes them genius. He beat to his own drum, embracing disco and championing James Brown when his peers could only look askance. The accompanying booklet runs down the basics, but best of all contains full-color jacket facsimiles of a dozen LPs with Wagoner done up in greasepaint, silver hair dye and ragged duds to personify a handful of “down and out” guises. This stuff really just has to be heard to be appreciated and believed.

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