Caught in the Webb: a Tribute to the Legendary Webb Pierce (Audium)

Various Artists 

Caught in the Webb: a Tribute to the Legendary Webb Pierce (Audium)

The twin colossi of mid-twentieth-century country music are Hank and Lefty. (See? I don't even need to use their last names.) But while this honky-tonkin' pair is entrenched in the public consciousness as country music incarnate, and while Nashville has seen fit the past several years to pay tribute to such outside agitators as the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, Webb Pierce has been all but forgotten. Pierce didn't have the good fortune, legendarily speaking, to die pathetic and too young, nor did he warrant the credibility boost hipsters automatically award musicians who write the songs they sing. But beginning with his debut smash ,"Wondering," just a year before Hank Williams' death in 1953, and continuing unabated through Lefty Frizzell's early '60s comeback, Pierce scored seventy hits of his own, including thirteen chart toppers. Rendered indelible by Webb's wailing Louisiana-bred twang, many of these records -- "Back Street Affair," "There Stands the Glass," "Tupelo County Jail," "Honky Tonk Song" -- have become iconic even if Pierce hasn't.

But that's beginning to change. Last year, Pierce was finally inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. (To hear why that honor was a couple of decades overdue, track down King of the Honky-Tonk: From the Original Decca Masters.) And now comes Caught in the Webb. Organized and produced by '80s country star Gail Davies, the 21-track disc is as good as any tribute collection ever released. Country siren Mandy Barnett crawls, weeping, through "Slowly," bluegrassers the Del McCoury Band go "Walkin' the Dog" at what feels like a sprint, and Dwight Yoakam delivers "If You Were Me" in a graceful, gliding shuffle. Every cut is swell, and all proceeds go to the Minnie Pearl Cancer Foundation, in honor of Pierce's own cancer-related death in 1991.

What's more, as the artists above suggest, Caught in the Webb maps an unusually comprehensive view of the country-music landscape. The roster includes Hall of Famers George Jones, Charley Pride, Willie Nelson, and the Jordanaires, who provide harmonies on several tracks here just as they did on so many of Pierce's originals. But the set also features alternative-country acts such as Allison Moorer, Robbie Fulks, BR549 and Dale Watson, singer-songwriters Guy Clark and Kevin Welch, songbirds Emmylou Harris and Crystal Gayle and '90s hitmaker Pam Tillis. Toss into that mix a Webb Pierce classic or two, and you've got the template for a pretty great turn-of-the-century country station.

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