Ricky Van Shelton was one of the best neo-trad Top 40 artists of the late 1980s and early '90s, a surprisingly good, surprisingly rootsy artist, given his widespread commecial success. And, yes, "Van" is actually his middle name, and his records should be filed under "Shelton." No foolin'.
Ricky Van Shelton "Greatest Hits Plus" (Columbia, 1992)
Virginia-born country crooner Ricky Shelton (and, yes, "Van" is actually his middle name, not part of the last...) hit it big in the late '80s, as part of the neotraditional scene led by George Strait and Randy Travis. This is a nice sampling of his work from 1987-92, with a few new tunes added on to keep things interesting. A couple of these "bonus tracks" did well on the charts, but it's the oldies that will draw fans in... Although he's also a songwriter, Shelton carved out a niche as a country revivalist, taking cover versions of stagey old weepers such as Jack Greene's "Statue Of A Fool" and Ned Miller's "From A Jack To A Fool" up to the top of the charts. I find him best when he keeps it simple, and though he obviously got pegged as a balladeer, I think he's much better on the faster tunes. Still, this 14-track best-of is a good representation of his early years, a good way to check him out.
Ricky Van Shelton "Super Hits" (Columbia, 1995)
Ricky Van Shelton "Super Hits, v.2" (Columbia, 1996)
Ricky Van Shelton "16 Biggest Hits" (Columbia Legacy, 1999)
By the time this best-of came out, Shelton had started a slow but sure slide off of the charts, first out of the Top Five, then the Top Twenty, and then off of the Columbia label. With this updated, 16-song best of, Sony skipped his later material, but took the opportunity to revisit a few older tunes that they'd previously overlooked, like "Backwoods" and his version of the old Charlie Rich classic, "Life's Little Ups And Downs." Again, a nice career portrait, although you may find it equally rewarding to track down some of the original albums.
Ricky Van Shelton "16 Biggest Hits" (Sony Legacy, 2009)
Also comes in the new post-millennium eco-pack!
Ricky Van Shelton "Wild-Eyed Dream" (Columbia, 1987)
A strong debut by this Virginian neotrad lad... The production on the opening numbers -- the rockabillyish "Ultimately Fine" and the punchy "Crime Of Passion" -- is a bit poppy and bright, but Shelton shows his true colors in a series of tasteful cover tunes. Moving from Mel Tillis's "Life Turned Her That Way," and "Roger Miller's "Don't We All Have The Right" to Carl Smith's "Baby I'm Ready" and Merle Haggard's "Working Man Blues," Shelton ran the risk of being seen as a novelty-revival act... But with strong new original tunes like "Somebody Lied" pegging out in the Top Ten, he vaulted into stardom, and established himself as a force to be reckoned with. (And yes, his last name really is Shelton, "Van" being his middle name. Hillbillies... go figure!)
Ricky Van Shelton "Loving Proof" (Columbia, 1988)
Ricky Van Shelton "...Sings Christmas" (Columbia, 1988)
Ricky Van Shelton "RVS III" (Columbia, 1990)
Ricky Van Shelton "Backroads" (Columbia, 1991)
A fairly peppy, engaging record that had three #1 hits and a several non-hit album tracks that are pretty darn good. It's formulaic stuff, sure, but Shelton's still pretty engaging -- or at least, he seems to be having fun making the album. Highlights include a nice duet with Dolly Parton ("Rockin' Years"), and a fairly raunchy bedroom ballad by Wayne Kemp ("Who'll Turn Out The Lights") along with the masterful father'n'son weeper, "Between The Lines," which was co-written by Kathy Louvin, daughter of the great Ira Louvin... All in all, a decent record...
Ricky Van Shelton "Don't Overlook Salvation" (Columbia, 1992)
A country gospel album; ideal for the true believer.
Ricky Van Shelton "A Bridge I Didn't Burn" (Columbia, 1993)
A pretty low-key, smoothly produced album. Shelton is mostly kinda workmanlike and sedate on this one, not a lot of fire or electricity... In fact, it's really kind of a snoozer -- not a song on here that really grabbed me, although "If It Weren't For Me" is a pretty good weeper. The album tanked out commercially as well, marking the start of his slide off the charts... Oh, well. At least it's reassuring that the record-buying actually does know when a record just isn't that good... Still, I suppose it's worth checking out because of the heights RVS can hit, and the subtlety he brings to bear...
Ricky Van Shelton "Love And Honor" (Columbia, 1994)
Ricky Van Shelton "Making Plans" (Vanguard, 1997)
A hidden gem. Although this is a very solid set of traditional-tilting tunes, Shelton's move to an indie label didn't do much for his career, other than give him a chance to record whatever kind of music he wanted to. If you only went by the Billboard charts, this album simply doesnŐt exist, but if you're just looking for some uncomplicated, better-than-average neotrad country, this is an album worth tracking down. Several fine performances, and even though Shelton isn't my favorite singer, he gets in some nice Lefty Frizzell and Conway Twitty-styled moments. Mostly it's the level of songcraft that's so pleasing -- no Shelton originals, but a nice batch of true country compositions that suit him well. Recommended.
Ricky Van Shelton "Fried Green Tomatoes" (Audium, 2000)
Another nice album that hard country fans may find themselves drawn to. The opening track, a muscular Southern-rock-tinged disaster named "Call Me Crazy," will make longtime Shelton fans shake their heads and lament him losing direction. But he'll win you back, once you get passed that little misfire. Another disc packed with nice country nuggets; he's not quite Lefty, but at least he's trying. And more often that not, he really drives home the emotional core of these wistful heartsongs. Recommended!
Ricky Van Shelton "Blue Christmas" (Audium, 2000)
(Produced by Steve Gibson)
A modest ten-song holiday offering. Plying his Marty Robbins-inspired crooning to the holiday spirit, RVS sings his little heart out on a set of standards and yuletide oldies... This starts out with a pleasant, standard-issue feel: bouncy, perky country-pop renditions of upbeat oldies like "Winter Wonderland" and "Let It Snow," delivered with a jaunty, offhand, Vegas-tinged bounce. On the last few tracks he gets super-slushy, though, and the album sort of grinds to a halt towards the end. No big surprises here -- a bit on the soft side, but competent and not too cloying. Fans'd be happy picking this one up. (For more holiday music, see my Country Christmas section.)
Hick Music Index