Carl Smith (1927-2010) was one of the finest hard country singers of the 1950s, a master of robust honky-tonk as well as heart songs and other romantic material which he invested with a pleasantly virile feel. Although he was suave, he wasn't wimpy or overly mannered, unlike other country crooners of the "Nashville Sound" era. His music has a real "Columbia label" feel to it -- smooth, but authoritative, giving him a great opportunity to show his strengths as a song stylist, including a sharp, twangy bite whenever it suited his songs. In the early 1950s, Smith broke through as a solo artist; he also married June Carter and their daughter went into show business as well, using the stage name Carlene Carter. Smith later divorced June Carter (who went on to fall in love with his buddy, Johnny Cash) and married another country star, singer Goldie Hill, with whom he spent the rest of his married life. Smith had a strong independent streak as well: in 1956 he quit the Grand Ole Opry and went to work for a competitor; in the 1970s, when his records stopped selling, he simply retired from the music business. One of my favorite old-school country singers. Carl Smith's music is a continual delight, and definitely stands the tests of time. Here: take a look!
Carl Smith "Satisfaction Guaranteed" (Bear Family, 1996)
Since they cost so damn much, I'm usually pretty leery of buying Bear Family boxes on a whim -- but based on the great Carl Smith LPs I already owned, I knew this would be a winner. Sure enough, this is stunning material -- sweet, weepy, romantic heartsongs along with a healthy slathering of upbeat, poppy honkytonk. If other BF boxes struck you as too monochromatic, give this one a try: Smith is a powerful stylist, and his '50s band was as good as it got. Highly recommended.
Carl Smith "Sixties Hits" (Collector's Choice, 2002)
The perfect companion to Bear Family's '50s box, this tracks Smith through the lingering days of his hitmaking years. The album opens with several gimmicky pop tunes, such as "Ten Thousand Drums," which was derivative of Johnny Horton and Claude King's "history" song hits. But Carl soon settled back into a soulful, easygoing honkytonk groove, which was his real forte. I guess the style was a little old-fashioned (since he was stuck in the middle rungs of the charts for most of the decade), but it still sounds mighty fine. Smith fans should definitely track this one down!
Carl Smith "The Best Of Carl Smith" (Curb, 1991)
A good sampling of Smith's later work, on the Hickory label. Most of these tracks were minor chart hits in the mid-1970s, though they were all way, way in the Back Forty... Still, this is a good way to check out Smith's waning efforts, without having to track down (or listen to) all of his later LPs.
Carl Smith "The Essential Carl Smith: 1950-1956" (Columbia, 1991)
A very good, standard-issue best-of set from the early days of the CD era. Sony did themselves right by this fine reissue; hopefully they'll kick it in gear to put out more fine, classic country just like it, as years go by!
Carl Smith "Let's Live A Little" (ASV, 2005)
I haven't heard it yet, but I imagine this set is pretty comparable to the Essential collection above... ASV usually does a pretty good job on stuff like this!
Carl Smith "Time Changes Everything -- Mister Country" (Jasmine, 2006)
A very nice collection of Smith's old standards... I had thought this disc, like other recent classic country releases on the Jasmine label, might be a set of rarities and live tracks, but it turns out these are all old singles and other studio tracks. That's really good news for fans of good old country heartsongs who might not already have discovered Carl Smith best-of... These tracks are all great! Includes hits such as "Hey Joe," "If Teardrops Were Pennies," "Satisfaction Guaranteed" and "Don't Just Stand There," as well as some off-the-beaten-track gems and even a tiny sampling of Smith's gospel side. Nice song selection, very well programmed.
Carl Smith "Old Lonesome Times" (Rounder, 1988) (LP)
Carl Smith "Satisfaction Guaranteed" (BACM, 2005)
(Available through the British Archive of Country Music website.)
Carl Smith "Hey Joe! - Gonna Shake This Shack Tonight" (Bear Family, 2010)
Carl Smith "Carl Smith's Greatest Hits" (Columbia, 1962) (LP)
Carl Smith/Lefty Frizzell/Marty Robbins "Carl, Lefty And Marty" (Columbia, 1955)
Carl Smith "Carl Smith" (Columbia, 1955)
Carl Smith "Sentimental Songs By Carl Smith" (Columbia, 1956)
Carl Smith "Softly And Tenderly" (Columbia, 1956)
Carl Smith "Sunday Down South" (Columbia, 1957)
Carl Smith "Smith's The Name" (Columbia, 1957)
Carl Smith "Let's Live A Little" (Columbia, 1958)
Carl Smith "The Carl Smith Touch" (Columbia, 1960)
Carl Smith "Easy To Please" (Columbia, 1961)
Carl Smith "The Tall, Tall Gentleman" (Columbia, 1963)
Carl Smith "Carl Smith's Best" (Columbia, 1964)
Carl Smith "There Stands The Glass" (Columbia, 1964)
Carl Smith "Walkin' Tall" (Columbia, 1965)
Carl Smith "I Want To Live And Love" (Columbia, 1965) (LP)
(Produced by Don Law)
Nice set of then-recent country hits and old standards... Smith works his way through tunes like "Waterloo," "I'll Hold You In My Heart ('Til I Can Hold You In My Arms)," "Lonesome 7-7203," "Divorce Me C.O.D.," "BJ The DJ," and "Don't Let Me Cross Over..." Sure, on one hand you could say he was just coasting on this one, but if this is what Carl Smith sounded like when he was just phoning it in, I'd have been first in line to offer to pay his phone bill for a while. Sweet stuff! (Don Law produced, natch, giving it that classic Columbia sound...)
Carl Smith "Kisses Don't Lie" (Columbia, 1965)
Carl Smith "Man With A Plan" (Columbia, 1966)
Carl Smith "Satisfaction Guaranteed" (Columbia, 1967)
Carl Smith "A Gentleman In Love" (Columbia, 1967)
Carl Smith "The Country Gentleman" (Columbia, 1967)
Carl Smith "The Carl Smith Special: The Country Gentleman Sings His Favorites" (Columbia, 1967)
Carl Smith "Deep Water" (Columbia, 1968)
Carl Smith "Country On My Mind" (Columbia, 1968)
Carl Smith "Take It Like A Man" (Columbia, 1969)
Carl Smith "Faded Love And Winter Roses" (Columbia, 1969)
Carl Smith "Greatest Hits, Vol. 2" (Columbia, 1969)
Carl Smith "...Sings A Tribute To Roy Acuff" (Columbia, 1969)
Carl Smith "...And The Tunesmiths" (Columbia, 1970) (LP)
(Produced by Don Law)
An odd album, and kind of a misfire... Side One is dominated by slightly bizarre covers of great honky-tonk oldies such as "Pick Me Up On Your Way Down" and "Why Don't You Love Me," redone as sort of smooth rock'n'roll "stroll" songs, ala Freddy Cannon or Chubby Checker... the sort of stuff people started recording after Elvis joined the Army. It's a poor match for a guy like Carl Smith: the arrangements are bad, the band is going through the motions, and his phrasing is awkward. Smith only finds his groove on a few tunes here, mainly on Side Two, with tracks "I'm So Afraid Of Losing You Again" and "No One Will Ever Know." He tries some jazzy vocal riffs; they fall flat... The band mostly sounds bored, although the (unidentified) steel player amuses himself with some snazzy riffs and there is some rock-flavored electric guitar noodling that might interest some listeners. Mostly, though, I can't really say I'd recommend this one.
Carl Smith "I Love You Because" (Columbia, 1970)
Carl Smith "The Anniversary Album: 20 Years Of Hits" (Columbia, 1970)
Carl Smith "...Sings Bluegrass" (Columbia, 1971)
Carl Smith "Don't Say You're Mine" (Columbia, 1972) (LP)
(Produced by Don Law & Charlie Bragg)
Yeesh. How depressing. He was really floundering here as a countrypolitan crooner, with clunky phrasing and slow, geriatric string arrangements by Cam Mullins, Smith goes through the motions on hits of the day such as "Easy Loving," "Kiss An Angel Good Morning," "Help Me Make It Through The Night" and "Everything Is Beautiful." It's a good repertoire, but there's just no spark of life to these reserved, sluggish performances.
Carl Smith "If This Is Goodbye" (Columbia, 1972)
Carl Smith "The Way I Lose My Mind" (Hickory/MGM, 1975)
Carl Smith "The Girl That I Love" (Hickory/MGM, 1975)
Carl Smith "This Lady Loving Me" (Hickory/MGM, 1977)
Carl Smith "Silver Tongued Cowboy" (ABC-Hickory, 1978) (LP)
Wow.. this was a real surprise! I had just assumed this was going to be a disasterous outing, one of those embarassing minor-label career codas that seemed inevitable as the '50s hillbilly legends coasted into irrelevance, yet still had to chugging on in the face of the change... However, it's actually a pretty good set of relatively vigorous country tunes. Smith was old, sure, and didn't throw himself into the material the way he might have twenty-five years earlier, but he sure could pick good songs to sing, and could deliver them with conviction. This is sort of a sedate, elder statesman style record, not unlike the stuff that Bill Phillips and Don Williams would record at the start of the next decade, lowkey, but appealling to fans of the old-school country. It kept my attention from start to finish, and made onto the "keeper" shelf, along with some of his older albums. It's worth looking for.
Carl Smith "Greatest Hits" (Gusto, 1980)
Carl Smith "The Legendary Carl Smith" (Gusto, 1982)
Hick Music Index