Known as the “thin man from the west plains'”, Porter Wagoner has long been a hero of American country music. Porter may be best known for his rhinestone studded western wear as well as his long running television program, “The Porter Wagoner Show”, where he introduced the world to Dolly Parton. Famous past aside, his latest release The Wagonmaster stands alone as an excellent album, capturing the elder country western star in his twilight hours. In a similar vein to the records Johnny Cash released shortly before his death, Porter sings in a knowing voice; gruff, raspy, dusty and at times whispery, worn thin from eighty years of touring, and traveling. The Wagonmaster is a welcome reprieve to country & western revivalist hipsters who’ve worn out the Johnny Cash play-lists on their iPods. Cash fans might also pick up the record just to hear “Committed to Parkview”, a song penned by Cash and given to Porter, written about the time they both spent at the mental hospital. But the album is seventeen tracks strong and the best songs are Porters own, steeped in thick fiddle, pedal steel and twangy guitars. The songs cover the gamut of emotions: there are sad laments of love lost like “Late Love of Mine”, and raucous honky tonk tunes like “Hotwired”. The stand out track for me is at the end of the album, a seemingly impromptu solo rendition of Hank Williams’ “Lonesome Whistle”. Porter nails the song, with honestly and simplicity rarely seen in modern day musicians.
The Wagonmaster is released on ANTI, a label that recently picked up quite a few aging shit-kickers aside from Porter, including Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Tom Waits, and Merle Haggard. These old school outlaws are each releasing some of the best work of their careers. Don’t be surprised if The Wagonmaster gets a Grammy nod; like Porter himself, it’s a one of a kind classic from start to finish. More at home at the Grand Ole Opry then any place else, Porter will have to get used to a younger audience. The White Stripes booked Wagoner to open their recent Madison Square Garden show, and Dave Letterman will host him on the Late Show tonight, July 25.