From the fifties through the seventies, TV viewers in certain parts of the country would be lucky enough to enjoy broadcasts showcasing what was, at the time, the brightest and best in country music. Time Life has collected a second boxed set comprised of material shot live onstage at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee… better known as the home of the Grand Ole Opry. Additional material included in this eight disc collection was also shot at the Grand Ole Opry House and at WSM-TV in Nashville.
How does this material hold up? Remarkably well. It goes to show you almost immediately just how much modern country music, or at least modern country music of the mainstream variety, has changed over the years. This doesn't sound like the adult contemporary or pop music influenced ‘country' that plagues the radio, but rather, it's got that old fashioned, rootsy, instantly identifiable sound best described as classic.
Here's what you'll find scattered about the eight discs that make up the five and a half hour running time of this collection:
Disc One: Hall Of Fame 2:
Johnny Cash: So Doggone Lonesome / Hank Thompson: Blackboard of My Heart / Flatt & Scruggs: Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms / The Louvin Brothers: I Can't Keep You in Love with Me / Jim Reeves: In a Mansion Stands My Love & Billy Bayou / Faron Young: Goin' Steady / Ray Price: Heart Over Mind / Don Gibson: Lonesome Number One / Bill Anderson: Five Little Fingers / Loretta Lynn: Blue Kentucky Girl / Charley Pride: Just Between You and Me / Waylon Jennings: The Chokin' Kind / Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton: The Last Thing on My Mind / Conway Twitty: Baby's Gone / George Jones: When the Grass Grows Over Me
Highlights on this first disc include, not surprisingly, Cash's performance but not to be outdone, the Louvin Brothers are in very fine form here while Flatt & Scruggs, with some other players backing them, bring a bit of humor to the proceedings. Waylon Jennings looks surprisingly clean cut here in his younger years before he went outlaw, and the Dolly/Porter duet is fantastic. Throw in Conway Twitty at his coolest and ‘No Show' Jones to finish off the disc and there's not a stinker to complain about for miles.
Disc Two: Jukebox Memories:
Cowboy Copas: Filipino Baby / Billy Grammer: Gotta Travel On / Leroy Van Dyke: Auctioneer / Rex Allen: Don't Go Near the Indians / Ray Price: San Antonio Rose / Bob Luman: Let's Think About Living / Ray Stevens: Ahab the Arab / Billy Walker: Cross the Bazos at Waco / Bobby Bare: The Streets of Baltimore / Jerry Reed: Guitar Man / The Osborne: Brothers Rocky Top / Del Reeves: Looking at the World Through a Windshield / Mel Street: Borrowed Angel / Faron Young: Wine Me Up / Dave Dudley: Truck Drivin' Son-of-a-Gun
Some of this stuff is definitely a product of its time (the opening track and Rex Allen's contribution are good examples, and there's good old Ray Stevens' track too!) but that doesn't diminish the songwriting or the performing captured on this second disc. Jerry Reed's Guitar Man stands out, it's a kick to see this guy play as fast and wild as he does, while Del Reeves and Faron Young also stand out.
Disc Three: The Kings Of Country:
Faron Young: Sweet Dreams / Marty Robbins: My Isle of Golden Dreams / Eddy Arnold: You Don't Know Me / Jim Reeves: My Lips Are Sealed / Ernest Tubb: Drivin' Nails in My Coffin / Ray Price: I Wish I could Fall in Love Today / Sonny James: I'll Keep Holding On (Just to Your Love) / Bill Anderson: Bright Lights and Country Music / Johnny Cash: Five Feet High and Rising / Waylon Jennings: Green River / Mel Tillis: Stateside / Charley Pride: Does My Ring Hurt Your Finger / Porter Wagoner: Carroll County Accident / Johnny Paycheck: She's All I Got / Tom T. Hall: Old Dogs, Children and Watermelon Wine
Anytime you get the chance to see Marty Robbins' do his thing it makes for a good time, while Eddy Arnold and Jim Reeves are great here too. Ernest Tubb's track is a great one, while more work from Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings is nothing to sneeze at either. Charlie Pride and Porter Wagoner deliver as well as you'd expect them too but the real prize on this disc is the chance to see a young the late Johnny Paycheck deliver one of his early hits before he went outlaw in the seventies.
Disc Four: Legends 2:
Marty Robbins: I'll Go On Alone / Ray Price: Under Your Spell Again / Chet Atkins: El Manisero (The Peanut Vendor) / Jim Reeves: Home / Ernest Tubb: Thanks a Lot / Loretta Lynn: Your Squaw Is on the Warpath / Red Foley: Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy / Johnny Cash with the Statler Brothers and the Carter Family: Medley (I Walk the Line / Guess Things Happen That Way / Ballad of a Teenage Queeen / I Still Miss Someone / Ring of Fire) / Waylon Jennings: For Lovin' Me / Porter Wagoner: The Cold Hard Facts of Life / Charley Pride: The Easy Part's Over / The Statler Brothers: Bed of Roses / George Jones and Tammy Wynette: (We're Not) The Jet Set / Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton: The Right Combination / Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn: Easy Lovin'
Again, the Marty Robbins track is a good one but it's hard not to swoon a bit over Loretta Lynn when she shows up here, her voice like honey. Cash performing with the Statler Brothers and The Carter Family, however, is not just the highlight of this disc but one of the highlights of the entire set as they blaze through a pretty fantastic medley of hits. Throw in some more Waylon Jennings, another great piece from Porter, a surprisingly moving song from Charley Pride, and absolutely fantastic duets from Goerge Jones and Tammy Wynette, Porter and Dolly again and Conway with Loretta? It doesn't get much better than this.
Disc Five: Love Songs 2:
Hank Locklin: Send Me the Pillow You Dream On / Billy Walker: Funny How Time Slips Away / Jim Reeves: Losing Your Love / Jimmy C. Newman: A Fallen Star / Sonny James: Behind the Tear / Connie Smith: Then and Only Then / Hank Snow: A Fool Such As I / Roy Drusky with Bob Luman: Another / Conway Twitty: (Lost Her Love) On Our Last Date / Faron Young: It's Four in the Morning / George Jones: Loving You Could Never Be Better / Tammy Wynette: My Man / Ronnie Milsap: Pure Love / The Statler Brothers: I'll Go to My Grave Lovin' You / Johnny Rodriguez: That's the Way Love Goes
This isn't the best disc in the set but there's still enough rock solid material in here that you'll want to check it all out. Hank Snow's take on A Fool Such As I is a good one, and how can you not appreciate some broken hearted ballads from the likes of Conway Twitty and George Jones? Tammy Wynette's piece here is great too, and Ronnie Milsap is not to be overlooked. Those Statler Brothers are in fine form once again on this disc as well.
Disc Six: Pioneers 2:
Little Jimmy Dickens: A-Sleepin' at the Foot of the Bed / Carl Smith: You Are the One / Hank Snow: Conscience I'm Guilty / Chet Atkins: Alabama Jubilee / The Louvin Brothers: Your Heart Is Still Mine / Grandpa Jones: Are You From Dixie / Cowboy Copas: Flat Top / The Carter Family: Wildwood Flower / Flatt & Scruggs: Polka on a Banjo / Ernest Tubb: Let's Say Goodbye Like We Said Hello / Lonzo & Oscar: Country Music Time / Bill Monroe: Blue Grass Breakdfown / Bill Carlisle and Boots Randolph: Too Old to Cut the Mustard / Tex Ritter: Rye Whiskey / Roy Acuff: I Saw the Light
There's some absolutely great stuff on this one, every track showcasing a veritable legend in the industry. Hank Snow and Chet Akins shine here, but again the Louvin Brothers deliver some fantastic work too. Grandpa Jones adds a bit of humor to the proceedings as do Flatt & Scruggs, while Ernest Tubb and The Carter Family, more grounded, play things straight and serious like. Tex Ritter's rendition of Rye Whiskey is also great. This is a rare chance to see some of the old guard at their best.
Disc Seven: Queens Of Country 2:
Kitty Wells: Searching (For Someone Like You) / Jan Howard: The One You Slip Around With / Skeeter Davis: (I Can't Help You) I'm Falling Too / Loretta Lynn: Happy Birthday / Connie Smith: Ain't Had No Lovin' / Jeannie Seely: It's Only Love / Wilma Burgess: Misty Blue / Norma Jean with George McCormick and Mac Magaha: The Game of Triangles / Dolly Parton: Dumb Blonde / Wanda Jackson: Tears Will Be the Chaser For Your Wine / Lynn Anderson: If I Kiss You ( Will You Go Away) / Crystal Gayle: I've Cried (The Blue Right Out of My Eyes) / Billie Jo Spears: Mr. Walker, It's All Over / Tammy Wynette: Reach Out Your Hand / Melba Montgomery: No Charge
The ladies get the chance to strut their stuff on this disc. Obviously the bigger names like Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Crystal Gayle and Tammy Wynette are rightly given a few minutes in the spotlight but not to be outdone, Kitty Wells and Wanda Jackson are every bit as good. Lynn Anderson and Melba Montgomery are also stand outs here.
Disc Eight: Songs That Topped The Charts 2:
Carl Smith: Don't Just Stand There / Hank Snow: I Don't Hurt Anymore / Faron Young: Alone with You / Carl Butler: Don't Let Me Cross Over / Connie Smith: Once a Day / Hank Snow: Rhumba Boogie / Bill Anderson: I Get the Fever / Warner Mack: The Bridge Washed Out / Jack Greene: All the Time / Tammy Wynette: Good Lovin' (Makes It Right) / Don Gibson: Woman (Sensuous Woman) / Tom T. Hall: I Love / Jerry Wallace: If You Leave Me Tonight I'll Cry / Lynn Anderson: Keep Me in Mind / Cal Smith: Country Bumpkin
The last disc presents a nice selection of country hits that span a couple of decades, so we get a nice bit of variety here. Hank Snow shows up twice, but you can't get enough Hank Snow, while Tom T. Hall's performance also stands out. Tammy Wynette and Faron Young are also in top form.
This set is, in a word, fantastic. It's an excellent selection of music from a ridiculously talented array of performers. It doesn't just showcase legends like Cash and Jones, but so too does it allow for some of the other gone, but clearly not forgotten, members of country music's rich history to shine. This stuff is truly from a bygone era, what with all the nudie suits, the slicked back hair on the guys and the beehive do's on the gals, but that's half the charm right there. It all feels very wholesome and innocent, but not at the expense of entertainment value. Some of the songs are preceded by quick little sketches, some of which would have likely influenced shows like Hee-Haw that would gain in popularity in the years to come, but what really matters here is the music.
Opry Video Classics II arrives on DVD in its original 1.33.1 fullframe broadcast aspect ratio. Quality is all over the place here, but as to what that is, well, it really boils down to one factor and that's the condition of the source material. All of this material was originally broadcast live and exists now only as old tape masters. As such, you've got to expect some softness, some motion blurring and even some tape rolls here and there. Now, for the most part, it's all quite watchable and anyone familiar with how old television broadcasts of this era tend to look will have no real qualms here. Just don't go into this expecting this set to look like something that it isn't. The black and white footage can show some contrast blooming and the color footage sometimes looks a little quirky in terms of color reproduction, but it's not really that big a deal. Just seeing this stuff at all is cause for celebration.
It's also worth noting that most of these discs run forty to forty-five minutes, meaning Time Life could have easily fit all of this on four discs rather than eight.
The quality of the English language Dolby Digital Mono mix that accompanies each and every disc in this set is on par with the quality of the video. No alternate language options or subtitles are provided. There's occasional hiss, some level bumps and fades and some occasionally garbled sounding dialogue but for the most part it's sufficient. Again, the elements available will only allow for things to sound so good here.
There are no extra on any of the discs outside of static menus and chapter selection.
Opry Video Classics II contains a pretty mammoth selection of vintage country music culled from the Opry archives, much of which appears on home video for the first time ever with this collection. There's so much great material contained in here, so much of it very rare, that it's impossible for anyone with even a passing interest in the history of American country music to not get a kick out of it. The presentation is about as good as it probably can be, given the origins of the material, but here it really is the content that counts. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.