Dailey & Vincent do the Statler Bros.; a quick review
The announced mission of the duo formed by Jamie Dailey and Darren Vincent (yes, Rhonda’s brother) was to keep alive the storied tradition of the brother duos who at one point formed the backbone of country music: the Monroes, the Delmores, the Louvins (and the Stanleys, and the McReynolds, and the Blue Sky Boys, and…).
Their fourth long player in two years, Dailey & Vincent Sing the Statler Brothers, appears not on their principal label (Rounder), but in one of those side deals that are an increasing curiosity and, perhaps, necessity. It is released by and through Cracker Barrel restaurants, an old home-style restaurant chain which reaches into 41 U.S. states.
At virtually any other moment in my writing career, I would now take a paragraph to lambaste the artists for selling out. Reconciled as I am to the vicissitudes of freelance life and the difficulties of translating one’s creative impulses into food, I will pass on that, noting only that these releases were troubling to contemplate when we had a print magazine and a formal review section. Do we cover them? Do we review the Time-Life compilations, which they began sending out for comment? I dunno.
Nor do I know why this particular album rose up off the chair and into my truck, except that I knew that it would at least be good enough to get me out to the farm and back. Which it was. But I’ll probably not play it again.
Here, I think, are the problems:
(1) The Statler Brothers were a quartet. Dailey and Vincent are a duo, and a good one. Now, they’ve augmented themselves with three other vocalists — Jeff Parker, Joe Dean, and Jeff Pearls — though the credits do not make clear who sings what part on which songs. But there is something different, particularly, I suspect, in ensemble singing, between coming together and learning parts in the studio and singing so often that one intuitively knows where each other voice will and should fall.
(2) The songs don’t swing. The bluegrass ornaments are fine, and better than fine, but they feel like ornaments and not like integral parts of the songs. But mostly the vocalists are unable to come close to the easy confidence with which the Statlers presented their music, and they don’t…swing. I mean, there’s no other way to say it, really. I listen to music students play jazz every Friday afternoon, and they don’t swing either. But as the old aphorism goes, it don’t mean a thing if it doesn’t have that swing. Or however that went.
(3) The Statler Brothers were really, really good. And if you like these songs (and I do, for the most part), you can hear the originals in your head and judge these faithful covers against them. And the covers will always lose. Every time. The high parts don’t have the edge, the low parts don’t have the gravity, and the middle parts don’t…well…swing. And yet, as music, it is without flaw. It’s just also without feeling, no matter that Dailey & Vincent grew up (as many of us did) listening to the Statlers, no matter that they were among those who sung the Statlers into the Country Music Hall of Fame. What one walks away from this disc thinking is, wow, the Statlers were really, really good because Dailey & Vincent are really good, and their covers aren’t a patch on the originals.
(4) The covers are too faithful. There are no surprises. This will be a minor quibble, but why not at least update “The Class of ’57” to “The Class of ’67”? It’s a surpassingly sad song about life wearing one down, about settling for what’s possible, about the dimunition of dreams and goals. But the class of ’57, by my math, is well retired now. The class of ’67 is hard against these truths, and struggling with them. (As is my class, of ’77, but I don’t think it sings as well.) Again, I quibble, but my point is simply that the text was taken too literally all around.
These are good to great songs, and the set wisely eschews the Statler’s novelty numbers. Dailey & Vincent, they can flat sing. But not this, not this way, not this time. Not to these ears, anyhow.