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BACKTRACKING

Waxing poetic: A salute to records

March 07, 2007|Robert Hilburn | Special to The Times

The music on the Bear Family label's new "One More Record Please" album is mostly from half a century ago, but the concept is as timely as the closing of the Tower Records stores.

More than simply a salute to individual songs, the CD toasts the magic that millions of pop fans found in the physical records themselves.

In the liner notes to this collection of 25 country tunes about records, Hank Davis writes, "It's hard to imagine, but before another generation goes by, the subject matter of this collection will pass into history. Songs about phonograph records. Making them, buying them, playing them and measuring the stages of our lives by them."

These songs speak to a time, primarily the '40s to the early '60s, when the single -- either 45 or 78 revolutions per minute -- was king, and the most passionate fans prized the records so much they'd remember the color and logo of the labels. Sun singles were yellow, Chess singles were blue and silver, Imperial's were red, and so forth.

Eventually, albums replaced singles as the dominant format, and the larger discs brought their own rewards, including great cover art and valuable liner notes. But it's the old singles that Bear Family's album salutes.

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Various Artists

"One More Record Please"

(Bear Family)

This German import includes tunes by country music stars, including Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, but mostly features recordings by obscure artists who wrote about records as a way of courting radio airplay. There's nothing disc jockeys love to play more than a record that speaks about a disc jockey playing a record.

Even Nelson's "Mr. Record Man," taken from a mid-'60s album, and Haggard's "Please Mr. DJ," from a 1964 single on Tally Records, are in that tradition.

Here are lines from Haggard's song:

Oh please, Mr. DJ:

Play that song I've heard you play

And send it out to someone

Who broke my heart today.

Other lyrics on "One More Record" speak in various ways about the records that dominated jukeboxes and filled record stores long before compact discs and iPods.

Betty Cody's "Phonograph Record," released by RCA Victor in 1953, and Bob Denton's "I'm Sending You This Record," from Dot Records in 1957, both tell about giving a record to a loved one to express devotion. In the latter, Denton boasts of spending two weeks at the record store, "listening to a thousand tunes or more" to find just the right one for his girl.

Joyce Moore's "Don't Play Number Ten (On the Juke-Box Tonight)," on RCA in 1953, and Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper's "Don't Play That Song (On the Juke Box Tonight"), on Columbia the same year, are about pleading with people not to play a song that brings back painful memories.

Art Gibson's 1948 recording of "No More Records," on Mercury Records, may be the most intriguing track on the album because it wonders what the world would be like without records -- which must have seemed like an odd theme indeed at the time.

The key lines:

No more records in the stores

No more records in the stores

What will we do without records

When we can't play our phonographs no more?

In an age of home-theater systems, computers, video games and the rest, Gibson's question seems naive indeed. Still, "One More Record" is an oddly affecting CD that should touch a nerve in those who prized the record itself and not just the music. Richard Weize produced the reissue. For more information, go to www.bear-family.de or www.ccmusic.com.

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Lucinda Williams

"Car Wheels on a Gravel Road/Deluxe Edition"

(Mercury/Universal)

This is an upgraded version of the 1998 album that lifted Williams to the front ranks of singer-songwriters. Though she had long shown the ability to look at life and relationships with a craft and fearlessness reminiscent of Joni Mitchell, everything came together for the Louisiana native in that work.

In the CD, and the rest of her music, Williams seems to be constantly reevaluating her steps to figure out what went wrong and what can she do to protect herself in the future.

Besides a remastered version of "Car Wheels," the two-disc package includes two previously unreleased songs and a 1998 concert with several songs from the album, along with a sprinkling of earlier tunes, including the edgy "Change the Locks."

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Backtracking, a biweekly feature, highlights CD reissues with special attention to artists or albums deserving greater attention than they received originally.

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