The Wilburn Brothers, Doyle and Teddy, never really tore the charts up, but their work was an interesting -- if occasionally underwhelming -- mix of newfangled folk-countrypolitan and vestigal, old-fashioned honkytonk. They started recording 'way back in the early 1950s, but didn't really get established until the end of the decade. Along the way they were associated with honkytonk headliner Webb Pierce, and became part of the business side of Nashville. As hosts of a syndicated country variety show, they helped numerous up-and-coming artists, notably Loretta Lynn, who they helped get a recording contract (and whose publishing rights they locked down with a particularly restrictive contract: this kind of story was apparently not that uncommon for the Wilburns, who were hard-nosed businessmen, and rubbed a lot of folks the wrong way...) Their personal lives aside, though, the Wilburns made some nice music... Here's a quick look.
The Wilburn Brothers "The Wonderful Wilburn Brothers" (King, 1960)
It's interesting to hear these fellows -- who were later tamed and groomed by the Nashville establishment, and appended to the Webb Pierce entertainment empire -- back in their early incarnation as scrappy Hank Williams acolytes, with a stringband style that sounds more like early Louvin Brothers than their later smoothed-out blend of honkytonk and folk-country. The sound quality on these old recordings (circa 1950) isn't great, but the music is compelling. Album highlights include a fine pair of gospel tunes, and the perky, melody-driven "Give A Little, Take A Little," which is a nice hillbilly bop song that oughtta to be revived sometime... Worth checking out!
The Wilburn Brothers "Retrospective" (MCA, 1991)
A short, but welcome sampling of the commercial work of this now nearly forgotten country duet. These ten tracks span from their late '50s hits to their last chart entry in 1972, the strangely spooky "Arkansas," an ode to their home state. For the better part of a decade the Wilburns consistently rang into the middle rungs of the Top Ten, though by the late '60s the hits were coming fewer and farther between... This collection is a letdown for fans and the idly curious alike... those of you with turntables still left might be better served looking for their old LPs, which have a few gems not represented here. An updated retrospective, with about twice as many tracks on it, would be welcome from an historical viewpoint... But don't hold your breath; these guys are hardly household names, and sell way less now than they did back then. In the meantime, this disc's an okay option.
The Wilburn Brothers "Teddy & Doyle" (Edsel, 1998)
The Wilburn Brothers "Stars Of The Grand Ole Opry" (First Generation, 1981)
The Wilburn Brothers "Greatest Hits" (Varese Sarabande, 2005)
The Wilburn Brothers "Songs Of Inspiration" (Varese Sarabande, 2011)
A swell set of country gospel drawing from two albums the Wilburn Brothers recorded on the Decca label, 1960's Livin' In God's Country and Take Up Thy Cross, from 1964. Most of the tracks have a surprisingly old-fashioned, churchy, brush-arbor feel to them, more Stamps-Baxter southern gospel than the smooth Nashville sound the Wilburns were known for... Most of the songs are standards -- "Shall We Gather At The River," "Bringing In The Sheaves" -- while some are less well-known, such as "Medals For Mothers" and "Let The Lower Lights Be Burning." Of course, the true test of country gospel set is how each type of song is handled, and there are gems in both the chestnuts and the nuggets, with several striking performances, particularly on their versions of "Angel Band" and ""Throw Out The Life Line." Although this is a much older style of gospel singing, modern-day fans will still find a lot to enjoy, and fans of the Wilburn Brothers will be pleased to hear these vintage recordings back circulation again. Recommended!
The Wilburn Brothers "The Knoxville Girl" (BACM, 2005)
The Wilburn Brothers "In Harmony: Classic Albums And Singles" (Golden Stars, 2010)
A 3-CD set of their work... so far the most comprehensive collection of their work that I know of...
The Wilburn Brothers "Wilburn Brothers" (Decca, 1957) (LP)
The Wilburn Brothers "Side By Side" (Decca, 1958) (LP)
The Wilburn Brothers "Livin' In God's Country" (Decca, 1959) (LP)
The Wilburn Brothers "The Big Heartbreak" (Decca, 1960) (LP)
The Wilburn Brothers "The Wilburn Brothers Sing" (Decca, 1961) (LP)
The Wilburn Brothers "City Limits" (Decca, 1961) (LP)
The Wilburn Brothers "Folk Songs" (Decca, 1962) (LP)
The Wilburn Brothers "Trouble's Back In Town" (Decca, 1963) (LP)
The Wilburn Brothers "Take Up Thy Cross" (Decca, 1964) (LP)
The Wilburn Brothers "Never Alone" (Decca, 1964) (LP)
The Wilburn Brothers "Country Gold" (Decca, 1965) (LP)
The Wilburn Brothers "I'm Gonna Tie One On Tonight" (Decca, 1965) (LP)
The Wilburn Brothers "The Wilburn Brothers Show" (Decca, 1966) (LP)
The Wilburn Brothers "Let's Go Country" (Decca, 1966) (LP)
The Wilburn Brothers "Two For The Show" (Decca, 1967) (LP)
The Wilburn Brothers "Cool Country" (Decca, 1967) (LP)
The Wilburn Brothers "It's Another World" (Decca, 1968) (LP)
The Wilburn Brothers "Greatest Hits" (Decca, 1968) (LP)
The Wilburn Brothers "We Need A Lot More Happiness" (Decca, 1969) (LP)
The Wilburn Brothers "It Looks Like The Sun's Gonna Shine" (Decca, 1969) (LP)
The Wilburn Brothers "Little Johnny From Down The Street" (Decca, 1970) (LP)
The Wilburn Brothers "Sing Your Heart Out Country Boy" (Decca, 1970) (LP)
The Wilburn Brothers "That She's Leaving Feeling" (Decca, 1971) (LP)
The Wilburn Brothers "Portrait" (MCA, 1973) (LP)
The Wilburn Brothers "Stars Of The Grand Ole Opry" (1st Generation, 1981) (LP)
Hick Music Index