Ray Price – Little Nashville Opry (Nashville, IN)
Former Columbia Records chief Don Law rejected Ray Price 20 times before finally signing him in 1951. Nearly a half-century later, the country crooner had no problem hooking the 500 folks at the Little Nashville Opry and reeling them in one-by-one.
Unveiling an 11-piece band, which included pedal steel, piano and a violin quartet, Price discarded most of his harder honky-tonk songs in favor of laid-back, loungey numbers. “I’m glad you like to hear these old country songs, because I like to sing them,” he announced before his voice, as smooth as warm cake batter, broke into a peppy version of the classic “Crazy Arms”.
After bopping through the Harlan Howard-penned “Heartaches By The Number”, Price concentrated on his pop-crossover material from the ’60s, including booming versions of “Make the World Go Away” and “The Other Woman”. The lush string section imbued “Blue Spanish Eyes” with a chilling eerie spell, with Pee Wee Walker’s long, romantic bowing working well behind the other fiddlers’ short, choppy strokes.
Gliding atop these instrumental ornamentations, Price’s supple voice — all 72 years of it — filled every corner of the room, smoldering on “Burning Memories”, begging on “Please Release Me”, lilting through former bandmate Willie Nelson’s “Crazy”.
The low points of the two-hour set were Price’s too-frequent breaks — interruptions he used not so much to catch his breath as to trade ethnic jokes (“What do you call an Italian suppository? An innuendo”) with his longtime pianist Hernando, who apparently didn’t mind behind referred to as a “wetback”. In one surreal moment, Hernando donned a platter-sized sombrero, danced a jig, then sheepishly remarked, “I hate to wear this hat.”
Price finished the show with a medley of sentimental weepers, including “Make the World Go Away”, Kris Kristofferson’s “For The Good Times”, and a new ballad (which sounded a lot like the old ballads) titled “The Only Bridge I Haven’t Burned”.