1-CD with 20-page booklet, 14 tracks. Playing time approx. 35 mns.
At first sight, Connie Francis and Hank Williams Jr. wouldn't seem to have much in common, but Connie loved country music, and her voice blends beautifully with Hank Jr.'s on this duet album, rounded out here by a couple of alternate takes. Connie Francis and Hank Williams Jr. tackle a program of country favorites including Bye Bye Love, Send Me The Pillow You Dream On, Wolverton Montain,
Please Help Me I'm Falling, and Mule Skinner Blues.
Connie Francis and Hank Williams Jr
Both might have seemed neophytes to country music, Francis because of her identification as a pop singer, Williams because of his youth. But in fact, both were country music veterans. Williams's mother, Audrey, had arranged his first paying gig on her Caravan of Stars when he was a mere eight years old, waiting only for his voice to change to start him recording. With six years of stage work under his belt, he was at very least an excellent mimic of his country forebears (which usually is the best a young singer can hope for anyway).
Francis, meanwhile, was no stranger to country by 1964. As early as 1957, she had dabbled in country music, recording a duet, The Majesty Of Love, with Marvin Rainwater just before Who's Sorry Now. In 1959, while also conquering the worlds of rock 'n' roll, Italian music, holiday music, pop standards, and children's music, the versatile singer had also found time to cut 'Connie Sings Country And Western Golden Hits.
"That album was not a big success, but Francis was undaunted. Commissioning her Brooklyn-based songwriting team of Howard Greenfield and Jack Keller to write her a country-type song, and Francis had a worldwide hit with Everybody's Somebody's Fool in 1960. Thereafter, a country flavor was part of the mix in many of her recordings of the '60s, some of which were recorded in Nashville. ("The Nashville Sound," she notes, "can't be duplicated anywhere.") Not only were there hits like Breakin' In A Brand New Broken Heart, but also a second country album, 'Country Music, Connie Style'.
Hence, when Francis and Williams came together to cut 12 country standards that had bee arranged by Bill McElhiney under the production aegis of Jim Vienneau and Danny Davis, both can be considered to have been ready. This is not to say, however, that theirs was a natural collaboration in any sense other than that of corporate logic: Francis was MGM Records' biggest star, Williams, the son of their biggest country money maker, was probably their newest signing. It must have been hoped that glory would be reflected on both sides.
The track listing easily justified the album's billing of 'great country favorites'. Most of the songs dated from the previous ten years, and all were well-known in country circles. A few were equally well-known in the pop world. Hank Locklin's Send Me The Pillow That You Dream On had hit #5 country for him in 1958 and been revived by the Browns (#23) in 1960 and Johnny Tillotson (#11) in 1960. All three versions had also hit the pop charts. Wolverton Mountain by Merle Kilgore (who in later years would become Hank Williams, Jr.'s manager) and Claude King, had been a #1 country hit for King in 1962. Don Robertson and Hal Blair's Please Help I'm Falling (In Love With You) also had been a country #1 for Hank Locklin in 1960.
Endsley's Singing The Blues had spent 13 weeks at #1 country for Marty Robbins in 1956, while Guy Mitchell had scored the #1 pop hit for 10 weeks. Kendall Hayes's Walk On By had gone to #1,country in 1961 in a rendition by Leroy Van Dyke. Jimmy Work, who co-wrote Making Believe with Roscoe Reid and Joe Hobson, beat Kitty Wells for the top-selling recording, making #2 country to her #5 in 1955.
Don Gibson's Blue, Blue Day had topped the country charts for him in 1958 and gone to #14 for the Wilburn Brothers three years later. And Felice and Boudleaux Bryant's Bye Bye Love had gone #2 pop and #1 country for the Everly Brothers their first time out in 1957. (Francis had cut it for her first country album in 1959.)
Three of the four remaining tracks were, if anything, even better known. Lefty Frizell and Jim Beck wrote If You've Got The Money, I've Got The Time in 1950, the year that Frizzell took it to #1 country. (Jo Stafford had the pop hit.) Mule Skinner Blues, otherwise known as Blue Yodel #8, had been written by Jimmie Rodgers and George Vaughn and was one of Rodger's most popular tunes; the Fendermen had scored a #5 pop hit with their rendition in 1960. And the traditional song Wabash Cannonball, introduced by the Carter Family, had been a gold-selling hit for Roy Acuff in 1938. Even the less-well-known No Letter Today, a 1943 song by Frankie Brown, had been a #2 country hit for Ted Daffan and his Texans in 1944.
The songs made for a good mixture of material for the singers, a combination of ballads and uptempo material, with romantic, humorous and traditional country subject matter. As Paul Ackerman, annotator of the original album, noted, the record is brought together musically by Bill McElhiney's arrangements, which are very much in the then-popular Nashville Sound style. Ackerman explained the style as a fusion of country and pop elements. "Violins and voices ... are used extensively," he wrote. "Country fiddles are not used. Also, there is considerable use of the so-called gospel-styled piano.
This latter technique, of course, has been a prominent element in recording arrangements for the past several years (ever since Floyd Cramer's 'Last Date'). These qualities, together with the song material and general sound - mark the album as Nashville-made."
(The extensively used voices, by the way, were those of the Jordanaires. Best known as accompanists to Elvis Presley, they were between assignments with the King - a couple of months before, they had helped him cut the soundtrack to his film 'Roustabout,' and only a couple of weeks after the Francis/Williams sessions, they'd be back in Culver City to sing Do The Clam, among other songs, for 'Girl Happy.')
As to the two primary singers, "Connie's very versatile singing brings the skilled nuance of the urban song to bear upon this material," Ackerman wrote, while, "On the other hand, Hank sings in the traditional country fashion." Both, he perhaps couldn't have added in 1964, sing tentatively. Francis, despite moments of the kind of assurance we associate with her, often sounds like she's trying to get it right rather than really enjoying herself. Williams for the most part displays competence but little real enthusiasm.
It's not also notable that the two show flair for different styles. Francis seems on firmest ground with the ballads, notably No Letter Today, which easily could have been one of her country-oriented singles. Williams, not surprisingly, given his later history, gets more involved with the uptempo material, much of which has the flavor of the Hank Sr. songs he'd spent so much time copying. He shows off a nice yodel on Singing the Blues, for instance, which is perhaps to be expected of a boy who spent much of his childhood singing Lovesick Blues.
For the most part, however, you can see why the teaming of Connie Francis and Hank Williams, Jr. did not turn into one of the legendary country duos. Just like in the movies, a musical couple needs a certain chemistry, and while Hank and Connie's first date showed them off to advantage, its qualities - and its sales - were not enough to inspire a second encounter.
Nevertheless, Francis, for one, remembers the album fondly. Though she cknowledges that it's one of her records that "nobody ever heard of," she calls it "a great album. That's my forte," she adds, "I do country better than I do anything else." And though Hank Williams, Jr. has branched out into a num-ber of genres since, the same can be said of him.
WILLIAM RUHLMANN, New York, May 1993
|Sing Great Country Favorites (CD) 1|
|1:||Bye Bye Love|
|2:||Send Me The Pillow You Dream On|
|4:||No Letter Today|
|5:||Please Help Me I'm Falling|
|6:||Singing The Blues|
|7:||Walk On By|
|8:||If You've Got The Money|
|9:||Mule Skinner Blues|
|11:||Blue, Blue Day|
|12:||No Letter Today (alt)|
|14:||Mule Skinner Blues (alt)|