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Texas Hillbilly

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  • Nope, the Macy's in the title has nothing to do with the famous New York department store -- Macy's Record Distribution Company was a successful independent distribution firm based in Texas during the 1930s and '40s. In 1949, the company's owners took the plunge and formed their own record label, Macy's Recordings; they specialized in country & western sides, but their approach was hillbilly music with a touch of polish. Coming from the state that brought us Bob Wills, Macy's released country sides with a noticeable undertow of Western swing, and even the most straightforward hillbilly material from the label featured solid songs, expert picking, and sympathetic A&R work. Macy's also gave one of country's biggest stars his first experience in a recording studio, but Jim Reeves didn't score any hits for the label, and despite early success with Woody Carter, Macy's didn't fare well in the marketplace despite the quality of their music, and the label folded in 1951. Texas Hillbilly: The Best of Macy's Hillbilly Recordings features 25 numbers from the label's archives, and most of what's here is excellent Texas-style country from the period, divided between Western swing, hillbilly boogie, and straightforward country laments. The four sides from Jim Reeves are historically interesting, but while he already had a fine voice, his approach on "Teardrops of Regret" and "My Heart's Like a Welcome Mat" is just a bit too polite for the material, and he'd find more comfortable surroundings with the passage of time. More impressive is the sassy boogie of "Just a Little Bit More" by Sonny Hall and "Boogie Woogie Blues" by Art Gunn, the easy but insistent swing of "Sittin' on the Doorstep" by Woody Carter, and "Blue Over You" by Tommy Dover, the rapid-fire guitar work on "Tennessee" by Ramblin' Tommy Scott, and the liquor-fueled laments of "Fair Weather Friend" by the Bar X Cowboys and "Too Many Women Too Much Beer" by Laverl Carrico. Also included are a pair of then-topical numbers, "Draft Board Blues" by the Vance Brothers and "Korea Here We Come" by Harry Choates, which are fascinating for the amateur cultural historian. While the quality of the source materials is wildly uneven (some sound quite good, others are very noticeably scratchy), the music is top-shelf stuff throughout, and folks who love vintage country sounds will relish this collection. ~ Mark Deming
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