Rolling Stone didn't comprehensively cover Nashville in the Seventies, but the magazine loved country music enough to not just keep up-to-date on crossover hits but to alert readers to unknown favorites in the world of country, bluegrass, and country-rock. These 10 LPs basically remained undiscovered by everyone except hardcore fans — although some of their creators, such as Linda Ronstadt and Percy Sledge, would have fame at other stages of their careers.
Country-rock songwriter Lee Clayton arguably was responsible the term "outlaw country" in 1972 with his song "Ladies Love Outlaws," a hit for Waylon Jennings. On this second album, he explored obsession, ugly romances, and addiction — the guitar solos in songs like "Silver Stallion" went down easy, but nothing else did. Clayton quit the music business in the Eighties in favor of writing books and plays; since then, both the Highwaymen and Cat Power have covered "Silver Stallion."
What We Said Then: "An album of rawness and vengeance, Border Affair sounds more like a series of irrevocable deeds and violent thoughts than something striving toward technical perfection: emotion captured nearer the heart than the control board, a power and beauty that cannot be had by tampering with decibels during a mixdown by coffee-drinking men with silly hair. It is music shorn of the decorative niceties that madmen and drunks and poets never appreciate anyway, and it is music the likes of which has never before been recorded in Nashville." — Nick Tosches, RS 263 (April 20th, 1978)
A brilliant Nashville gambit: James Talley bartered his carpentry skills for studio time, and got some of the town's best session musicians to donate their skills. He pressed a small run of the resulting album before a major label picked it up, and it proved to be an old-school classic, kicking off a four-decade career that also saw him playing guitar with B.B. King and being covered by Moby.
What We Said Then: "Talley is obviously steeped in the rural tradition. He owes a great deal to Jimmie Rodgers and the Oklahoma-Texas string bands of the Thirties and Forties. . .he does a good job of evoking the era when unique string bands like the Doughboys would set up on a flatbed truck, hand out biscuits, and play all afternoon in the sun. It's a musical and cultural simplicity that's been missing from country music and, in a sense, harkens back to Depression music." — Chet Flippo, RS 196 (September 25th, 1975)
Ronstadt would become known as the queen of California country music and an international pop superstar; Silk Purse, her second solo LP, was the one album she made in Nashville. She got so down-home, she even posed for the cover photo in a pigsty. We called it "merely excellent" in 1970; while she acquitted herself well on a cover of "Homesick Blues" (made famous by Hank Williams), and this album has aged into a forgotten gem, in retrospect, she left her heart in Los Angeles.
What We Said Then: "Some of the material is raw imitation and some is more original, but none is very far from the soul of the singer. . .I'd say that most people would not be able to tell whether this was a 'real' Country singer or a hippie chick singing Country. . .'Will You Love Me Tomorrow,' the old Shirelles hit, sounds here like country Ronettes, but Linda's tremulous voice gives it more meaning than it had." — Alec Dubro, RS 61 (June 25th, 1970)
Auldridge grew up in suburban Maryland, not Kentucky, but he became one of the leading bluegrass players on the dobro (a.k.a. the resonator guitar). He was a mainstay of the group the Seldom Scene, and this solo debut LP was, we raved, "one of the tastiest bluegrass instrumental albums ever." Largely instrumental, it was half uptempo picking, half balladry, and all delectable. Auldridge went on to win a Grammy and have his own line of guitars before dying in 2012.
What We Said Then: "The pure standout. . .is 'House of the Rising Sun,' which starts with a spacey conversation between the two dobros and ends with one of the strangest, out-of-the-Purple-Dimension blues fiddle solo ever recorded. . .Norman Blake in the liner notes calls the 'smoothness and finesse' of Mike Auldridge's dobro playing unequalled. He might have added that the whole thing's clean as country water." — Tom Dupree, RS 122 (November 23rd, 1972)
Sledge, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame soul singer, left Atlantic Records for Capricorn Records, and drawing on his rural Alabama roots, switched his musical emphasis from R&B to C&W. This album was mostly ignored by both soul and country fans, but it has the same virtues as most of his other music: a slow-burning passion via the miracle of his vocal upper register.
What We Said Then: "Percy Sledge revives on this finely crafted album the same solid country feeling that barely hid below the surface of 'When a Man Loves a Woman,' his astonishing hit of nine years ago. . .Most of the cuts are deliberately paced, classical country-soul of the old school. Sledge's unrestrained delivery and the record's simple but ample production strike a responsive chord. The album is old-fashioned in the best sense." — Mark Vining, RS 185 (April 24th, 1975)
Bare had been making records since the Fifties, but fallen into a novelty-song shame spiral where most of his material was written by Shel Silverstein (a fine songwriter, but better in small doses). On this album, however, he staked his claim as one of country music's most natural singers, drawing from diverse sources to make a compelling concept album (dedicated to "the Ropers and the Dopers") about the life, death, and sexual dysfunction of the modern cowboy. In 2013, Bare was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
What We Said Then: "Cowboys and Daddys is a literary album. Its values are almost completely nonmusical. . .with its loping bass lines, strummed acoustic guitars and noodling instrumental passages. But the successful presentation of songs as powerful as Dave Hickey's 'Speckled Pony' or as droll as 'He's a Cowboy' allows for no distraction. Once they've got your attention, you don't miss the music. Bare's drawling, intimate singing is perfect for the material." — Ed Ward, RS 207 (February 26th, 1976)
In 1978, Steve Young, psychedelic cowboy and collaborator of Van Dyke Parks, had released four albums and written the song "Seven Bridges Road" (not yet a hit for the Eagles). On his "lovely and sleazy" fifth LP, however, he came into his own, singing about country-music staples (returning home, barroom romance, breakups) with passion and power. While Young ended up releasing over a dozen albums through his career, he became best-known as a songwriter; "Lonesome, On'ry and Mean" was a defining hit for Waylon Jennings.
What We Said Then: "Of all the aspiring singers who walk the streets of Nashville like characters scratched from the final draft of a bad beatnik novel, only a handful are capable of much more than rhyming 'feelin' free' with 'Tennessee' or sitting in the Gold Rush offering lines of thrice-cut cocaine to Vanderbilt girls. There are only a few I would ever pay to hear, and Steve Young is one of those. . .Like Hank Williams and William Faulkner, Young can transcend pathos with a majestic, drunken grin." — Nick Tosches, RS 261 (March 23rd, 1978)
Rodriguez was the first major Latin-American country singer: born in Texas 90 miles from the Mexican border, he catapulted to fame in the band of singer-songwriter Tom T. Hall, and then surpassed his mentor with a string of major country hits in the Seventies and Eighties (although he never crossed over to the pop charts). His second album, All I Ever Meant to Do Was Sing, took the traditional Nashville sound and made it fresh with his Tex-Mex flourishes.
What We Said Then: "Additionally, the C&W fanzines are touting him as the 'new heartthrob' and that's not so hard to understand once you watch a gaggle of women rip his pants off onstage. Rodriguez is already a superb C&W stylist and one of the most promising country writers. His first two albums demonstrate that he's certainly studied his George Jones, Merle Haggard and Charlie Pride, but he's also moved beyond those influences to establish his own enclave of C&W." — Chet Flippo, RS 154 (February 14th, 1974)
The Texan Katy Moffatt, the younger sister of singer-songwriter Hugh Moffatt, broke into the music business via a gig with a Denver radio station, and on this debut record, proved to have a classic country voice, reminiscent of Patsy Cline or Tammy Wynette. When this disc wasn't a hit, she became a backup singer for many years before going solo again — in 1985, she was nominated as Female Vocalist of the Year by the Academy of Country Music.
What We Said Then: "Country music's left field seems to be growing larger and larger. Katy Moffatt has a big, powerful voice over which she exerts remarkable control. . .Hers is a voice with a natural country twang, but when the line calls for it she can sing just as smooth as you please; and when she reaches up for a high note, she grabs it and holds on." — John Morthland, RS 222 (September 23rd, 1976)
Sacramento, California, wasn't a hotbed of country music: it was over 200 miles distant from Bakersfield and over 2,000 miles away from Nashville. Nevertheless, it was home to Redwing, a country-rock band that evolved out of Glad after Timothy B. Schmit left to join Poco. This debut included 10 originals plus covers of country pioneer Jimmie Rodgers and Nashville "hippie-cowboy" Mickey Newbury. After this debut, Redwing recorded four more albums between 1972 and 1975, never breaking through.
What We Said Then: "[The] finest hard rock/country band in the business today, the finest since Moby Grape first commandeered the Fillmore stage back in '67. . .Licks that won't quit. Long lazy ones. Short hard ones. All perfect in both taste and execution, and vocals that will wrench out all the tightness in your throat after too much of shock rock. . .Redwing. . .seems to both understand and contain the mellowness of the country living with the overriding sound of the hard urbanity that now intrudes upon the farmer and his fields." — J. R. Young, RS 85 (June 24th, 1971)