Review: Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper – Songs of Inspiration (Varese Sarabande, 2010)
Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper were one of country music’s most popular husband-and-wife duos for over 40 years, particularly during their stints on the Wheeling Jamboree and the Grand Ole Opry. Lee (nee Leary) began singing gospel music with The Leary Family in the early 1930s, and upon marrying Cooper in 1939 she began singing bluegrass and country as well. The duo signed with Hickory (the house label of the Acuff-Rose publishing empire) in the mid-50s, and hit it big with Don Gibson’s “There’s a Big Wheel,” the blazing mono mix of which opens this collection. All twelve of these tracks are all gathered from their years with Hickory, selected from singles and the early-60s albums Family Favorites and Songs of Inspiration. Throughout, Wilma Lee sings in forceful, open-throated testimony that simply can’t be ignored. The songs are primarily from country songwriters (Don Gibson, Hank Williams, Roy Acuff, Charlie & Ira Louvin, Fred Rose), though two tunes from one of Judaism’s most successful Christmas songwriters, Johnny Marks, are also included in terrific fiddle-and-steel arrangements. The Coopers recorded many inspirational titles, including singles, album tracks and full theme albums. At only twelve songs, this set merely scratches the surface (notably absent are “There’s a Higher Power” and “Tramp on the Street” – there are also no credits or liner notes), but what’s here is uniformly great. You can find a few more on Varese’s earlier Very Best Of or go all in with Bear Family’s Big Midnight Special.