CD Reissue Review: The Buckaroos – Play Buck & Merle (Capitol/Omnivore, 1965/1971)
Ominvore’s two-fer combines two instrumental albums that bookmarked the Buckaroos’ solo recording career. The Buck Owens Songbook was originally issued in 1965, and features a dozen twangy Bakersfield-sound instrumental covers of songs written by (or in the case of “Act Naturally,” closely associated with) Buck Owens. This classic lineup of the Buckaroos included Don Rich, Tom Brumley, Willie Cantu, Doyle Holly (playing guitar instead of bass) and Bob Morris (playing bass), and their guitar-led arrangements are tight and clean. But without Owens out front pulling them along, the playing remains a bit sedate, perhaps – as the original liner notes and included lyrics sheet suggest – for singing along. It’s a nice curio, but no substitute for either the original hits or some of the Buckaroos more adventurous instrumentals.
The Songs of Merle Haggard is a different beast altogether. Originally released in 1971, only Don Rich remained from the previous Buckaroos lineup, joined by Jim Shaw, Doyle Curtsinger, Ronnie Jackson and Jerry Wiggins. By this point, both Owens and his band had expanded their sound beyond the original Bakersfield sting, and while the underpinnings retain some of the shuffle and twang, they’re fleshed out with organ and breathy male chorus vocals. It’s as if someone decided to do a soft-country knockoff of the Bakersfield sound, but it works surprisingly well, particularly if you’re partial to the sunshine production sounds of the early ’70s. It’s a step removed from the Buckaroos primary invention, but it’s a still a hoot and a half.