Review: Buck Owens & Susan Raye – The Very Best Of (Varese Sarabande, 2011)
Susan Raye was a solid 1970s country hit maker, but having shared peak years with Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette, her long-term fame has been overshadowed and her Capitol catalog has been neglected by the reissue industry. The last collection of her solo work, Varese’s 16 Greatest Hits, was released over a decade ago, and is now joined by this selection of fourteen duets recorded with her mentor, Buck Owens. The pair recorded four albums between 1970 and 1973, launching six chart hits, all of which are featured here. The hits include Buck Owens originals “We’re Gonna Get Together,” “The Great White Horse” and “The Good Ol’ Days (Are Here Again),” as well as endearing covers of the Browns’ “Looking Back to See” and Mickey & Sylvia’s “Love is Strange.”
Owens had been a hit maker for over a decade when he and Raye cracked the charts as a duo. He continued to be a strong presence in the Top 10 for another five years before switching to Warner Brothers and successively peaking lower and lower through the rest of the decade. In 1970, however, Owens could virtually do no wrong; he was co-hosting Hee Haw, and the stinging Bakersfield sound he’d pioneered with the Buckaroos had broadened over the years alongside his public appeal. Owens had long been absorbing pop influences, heard here in the harpsichord on “The Great White Horse,” and the rock ‘n’ roll dynamics of the Buckaroos continues to spark up the twang. Amid all the influences, though, Owens’ voice always retained its country core.
Raye proved to be an excellent traveling partner for Owens’ explorations. The duo’s song list reprises several of Owens’ earlier hits with the Buckaroos, including “Together Again,” “Cryin’ Time,” “I Don’t Care (Just As Long As You Love Me),” “Think of Me When You’re Lonely,” and “Your Tender Loving Care.” Many of Owens’ recordings with the Buckaroos were sung with his own voice doubled in harmony, or with the backing of Don Rich, but Raye adds a female dynamic that winningly changes the tenor of the lovelorn lyrics. Owens’ albums with the Buckaroos have been extensively reissued, but most of these superb sides with Raye have previously remained in the vault. Lawrence Zwisohn provides liner notes and the CD is screened in the orange of a 1970s Capitol label, but the gold is in the grooves.