Lefty Frizzell – That’s the Way Love Goes: The Final Recordings of Lefty Frizzell
Perhaps Lefty Frizzell knew he was getting ready to check out. By 1972, his emotional, financial and physical health was failing. He’d gone eight years without a top-10 hit, and Columbia, the label he had blessed with a flurry of hits in the ’50s, let him go. He was drinking hard and heading toward divorce.
But 20 years earlier, Frizzell had stood with Webb Pierce and Hank Williams as the most popular and thrilling musicians in the honky-tonk vein. His vocal power was extraordinary. He learned much from Jimmie Rodgers, but never imitated him. Frizzell transformed the bluesy, bending technique and yodeling into a flowing, melismatic style that became the definition of honky-tonk poignance. In a sense, every note sung by John Anderson, Merle Haggard and George Jones (who was once nearly dismissed from a studio for copying Frizzell) is an homage to that voice.
The Varese collection draws from two out-of-print ABC recordings, The Legendary Lefty Frizzell (1973) and The Classic Style of Lefty Frizzell (1975), the latter completed nine months before his death. Alas, two songs from each record were left off; likewise, the new liner notes give no clue as to the musicians who created such a straight-ahead and sympathetic sound. They were simply Nashville’s best, including Pete Wade, Grady Martin, Pete Drake, Jeffrey Newman, Bobby Dyson, Buddy Harman, Buddy Spicher and Pig Robbins.
These recordings stand, note for heartbreaking note, with Frizzell’s most memorable work. His voice is strong, deep and ripe, an even finer dramatic vehicle than his singing on the classic Columbia sides. Just the slightest friction, now and again, scratches the mellow tone. Taken as a whole, the collection, with its songs of time and dreams passing, is like a loving elegy for honky-tonk itself.
The most moving performances are “I Never Go Around Mirrors” and “That’s the Way Love Goes”. The latter opens with gorgeous electric piano, acoustic guitar and Frizzell’s warm, gently cadenced voice. When pedal steel, bass and background harmony waltz in — well, that’s honky-tonk heaven. “That’s the music God made,” Lefty sings, “For all the world to sing/It’s never old/It grows.”