Jim Reeves (1923-1964) was perhaps the quintessential country crooner, a velvet-voiced manly-man who took Nashville about as far as possible into the world of 1950's-style pop vocals. In 1964, Reeves died in a small airplane crash, and was instantly canonized as a Music City saint; following his death there came a decades-long string of posthumous releases, a flood of "product" that can sometimes seem a bit ghoulish... And yet, Reeves has some of the most loyal fans Nashville has ever produced. Here's a quick look at his work.
Jim Reeves "The Essential" (RCA-Nashville, 1995)
A straight-up pop vocalist who just happened to have early country roots, Texas crooner Jim Reeves was both a big RCA cash cow, and an early industry martyr, dying in a tragic 1964 plane crash just as his star was at its zenith. Reeves was one of RCA's biggest artists, but he was at heart a slushy pop singer, as is adequately proven on this disc. Still, this disc has his great hit weeper, "He'll Have To Go," which by itself is worth the price of admission. Penetrating, haunting, soulful beyond all reasonable expectations, "He'll Have To Go" is a truly colossal tune, and is essential to any fan of the Nashville Sound. This set has his biggest hits; to delve deeper into his early hillbilly years as well as his later pop-country fusions, check out the more comprehensive multi-disc sets listed below.
Jim Reeves "Live At The Grand Ole Opry" (Audium/Country Music Foundation, 1987)
For an interesting look at Reeves's early career -- before the crooner persona really set in -- this set of live appearances at the Opry is aomething of an eye-opener. Reeves is pretty personable and heck, even sounds a little like a hick on many of these tunes, even on his big hits (which sound a lot slicker in their studio versions). I confess, I'd always been rather adverse to Reeves's work until I heard this album... and then I had to modify my opinion a bit. Recommended!
Jim Reeves "RCA Country Legends" (BMG Heritage, 2002)
An updated standard set, which mirrors the old Essentials album in some ways, but branches off into new terrain, including several different tracks. They're both fine options for a budget-line introduction to Reeves's work, but they're also both clearly superceded by the more comprehensive Anthology set, reviewed below.
Jim Reeves "Welcome To My World" (Bear Family, 1994)
Jiminy cricket! A 16-CD box set, all devoted to the velvet-voiced countrypolitan king? Almost unimaginable... But if you're a diehard Jim Reeves fan -- and there are plenty of them out there -- this gigantic retrospective, outtakes and alternate versions included -- is pretty much the ultimate collection.
Jim Reeves "Gentleman Jim: 1955-59" (Bear Family, 1994)
This set focuses, more demurely, on Reeves's early years... It includes some of his more "hillbilly" material, although it also encompasses entire theme albums, including a gospel record, and a series of songs with different women's names.
Jim Reeves/Various Artists "Radio Days, v.1" (Bear Family, 1999)
But wait -- there's more! Four CDs worth of the Jim Reeves radio show, with Gentleman Jim singing between the stage patter, and plenty of guest performers, including Chet Atkins, Jean Shepard, The Louvin Brothers, and several tracks by Reeves's backup band, The Blue Boys, all recorded for the US Armed Forces radio service, in the late 1950s and early '60s.
Jim Reeves/Various Artists "Radio Days, v.2" (Bear Family, 2001)
Another 4-CD set with guest appearances by Ernest Tubb, Jimmy Dean, The Louvin Brothers, Carl Butler and others.
Jim Reeves "Anthology" (BMG Heritage, 2003)
This 2-CD set is a considerable improvement on BMG's previous standard-issue best-of package, doubling the playlist of the Essential and RCA Legends collections, offering fully 20 more classic tunes, and a much fuller picture of Reeves's too-brief career. Previously omitted gems include peppy early hits like "Mexican Joe" and "Bimbo," as well as forgotten country gems such as "Drinking Tequila" and a surprisingly vigorous version of Jimmie Rodgers' "Waiting For A Train." The big countrypolitan smashes are also included -- "Four Walls," "Blue Boy," "He'll Have To Go" -- and a generous smattering of his later sessions from the early '60s. All in all, a pretty classy set which should help flesh out this country crooner's too-brief career, and which should remain the standard Reeves collection for years to come.
Hick Music Index