Live Classics (Country Music Foundation)

Marty Robbins 

Live Classics (Country Music Foundation)

Marty Robbins stands as one of the most gifted, emotionally compelling and just plain important vocalists in the history of country music. With his initial hits in the early '50s, he proved himself a crooner nearly the equal of Tommy Duncan, Eddy Arnold or Red Foley. It wasn't until rock and roll's emergence in the mid-'50s, though, that he really found his voice. In fact, while many country singers viewed the new music as a threat, Robbins seems to have appreciated its possibilities from the start. In early 1955, when Elvis Presley remained a regional secret, Robbins scored a Top-Ten country hit with a rollicking, fiddle-driven cover of "That's All Right." Over the next two decades, Robbins (along with Presley, Roy Orbison and Conway Twitty) perfected a pop-oriented approach to country singing that's still used by Ronnie Brooks, Raul Malo and countless others.

A charming new 21-track collection of the singer's Grand Ole Opry performances lets listeners experience this metamorphosis. Recorded between 1951 and 1959, Live Classics includes Robbins rocking through "That's All Right"; swinging dreamily through his 1953 chart-topper "I'll Go On Alone" (think of Elvis' later work on, say, "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You"); getting the girls in the Ryman Auditorium to squeal with delight over "White Sport Coat"; fusing country and rockabilly perfectly on "Singing the Blues"; and crooning through his cowboy classic "El Paso." It's all masterfully performed, but the highlight is probably the 1958 recording of Bacharach and David's "The Story of My Life." Delivering the lyric's marriage proposal virtually a cappella, Robbins (backed by the Jordanaires, who whistle and buh-buh-buh throughout) floats through the melody with an underplayed grace and unerring sense of rhythm that sounds so easy and natural you'd swear anyone could do it. Robbins was a master of this particular illusion: His every story of heart-swelling love and heart-wrenching loss soared with the beauty and dignity we all deserve.

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