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Classic Album Review-”Mel Tillis On Stage”

Here’s something you don’t see too much, anymore, a “live” album. Thanks to the high cost of producing a live album, combined with continued plummeting CD sales make the live album almost a dinosaur, outside of catalog albums (in-print albums that are several years old). However, they used to be somewhat common in the various genres of music, at some point, most major artists would release at least one during their career. Some, such as Mel Tillis, even released multiple live albums. And it’s one of Mel’s releases that we review, today. “Mel Tillis On Stage” was a February, 1973 MGM release, the third of five live albums he would ultimately release during his career. “Mel Tillis On Stage” did not have any singles released, and peaked at number thirty-four on the country album charts.

Mel starts the album/concert with a medley of “One More Time” and “The Arms Of A Fool”. “One More Time” is a song that Mel wrote for Ray Price, while “The Arms Of A Fool” was a 1971 hit for Mel. Mel does each song well.

From there he segues into the Jim Reeves classic “Welcome To My World”. Again, a good job, but the unfortunate thing about live albums, is that sometimes things happen (planned or otherwise) that the listener does not see, and this is the case, here, as we hear laughter in the background; we are left wondering what was going on.

Up next, Mel spends a few moments performing a bit of stand-up for the audience, regionalizing some of the jokes for the Birmingham, Alabama audience.

“I Ain’t Never”, another Mel composition, is next. At the time of this recording, it had just been a few months since Mel’s version had topped the chart (it was also a big Webb Pierce hit in 1959). To me, I always like it when an artists stays relatively close to his recorded performance, with his live variation, which is what Mel does.

Mel has always had a good dose of comedian in him, and it often comes out even in simple introductions, including his intro of “Untouched”, another of Mel’s hits, a somewhat forgotten top twenty hit from 1972. A very good ballad.

Side one wraps with what, at the time of the album’s release, was Mel’s latest hit (and one of my Mel Tillis faves) “Neon Rose”.

Side two opens with Mel needling his piano player’s weight, as well as his own looks, from which he then breaks into another of his hits, which his piano player wrote, “Brand New Mister Me”. Another great song from Mel’s history.

Mel tries some impersonations, next, including Hank Snow singing “I’m Movin’ On”, Donald Duck (no kidding) singing “Walking The Floor Over You”, and pretty decent impersonation of Ray Charles on “What I’d Say”, and Webb Pierce on “Wondering”.

A little more stand-up ensues, with his tales of his mother running off women that he’d bring home. A routine that gave everyone a good laugh or two.

The album wraps with a medley of gospel, including “I’ll Fly Away”, “I Saw The Light”, “Dixie”, and “Glory, Glory Hallelujah” (“Battle Hymn Of The Republic”). I have to admit, though, I’ve never considered “Dixie” as gospel song.

Though not available on CD or MP3 download, there are several copies of the album on the market (even a few 8-tracks), ranging between $4 and $17. It shouldn’t be too hard to find a copy.

An album such as this is nearly impossible to list a Standout Track or a Hidden Gem, since most of the songs are already well known hits, however, let’s try; I’ll give “Neon Rose” the Standout Cut, since it’s one of my favorite Mel Tillis songs. Hidden Gem will go to “Untouched”, since it’s also a good record that, again, while a hit, if often overlooked in Mel’s catalog of hits. And Weakest Track? I’m stretching, but I’ll say the “One More Time”/”The Arms Of A Fool” medley, just because I would have liked to have heard him perform both in their entirety.

Three things are apparent, to me, listening to this album. 1. Unlike some performers, Mel was just as good of a singer in person, as he was on record. 2. His backing band, The Statesiders” might have been one of the most underrated backing bands, ever. 3. He really knows how to connect with his audience, with a mix of music and clean humor. You can tell that the audience was really enjoying the show. Overall, I rate it a 4 out of 5. Your thoughts?

MORE FROM THE ULTIMATE TWANG STAX OF WAX

Mel Tillis – “Greatest Hits”

Sonny James – “Behind The Tear”

Ray Price – “For The Good Times”

Charley Pride – “I’m Just Me”

Ray Price – “The Other Woman”

Ronnie Milsap – “Where My Heart Is”

Webb Pierce – “Sweet Memories”

Johnny Paycheck – “11 Months And 29 Days”

“Will The Real Dave Dudley Please Sing”

Merle Haggard – “Swinging Doors”

Tom T. Hall – “For The People In The Last Hard Town”

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