Classic Album Review-Slim Whitman “Just Call Me Lonesome”/”Portrait”
Greetings from the beautiful city of Asheville, where the rain is gone, the sun is shining, and the wind is breezy. Here, there’s always good music on the turntable, in the CD, or on the MP3. I’ve got one of the more unique voices of Country Music history, today, Slim Whitman. Chances are, your familiarity with Slim, if you’re my age, will be mainly from his early eighties TV album that was heavily advertised, along with his brief chart return with the top fifteen hit, “When”. You might also have been exposed to his music through cinema, as well. The classic “Close Encounters Of The Third Kind” used his hit “Love Song Of The Waterfall”, while “Indian Love Call” was used as a weapon against Martians in the film “Mars Attacks!”. While Slim as sometimes been the subject of jokes, in reality, he has turned out to be a somewhat influential figure in music. According to Wikipedia, his left-handed style of guitar playing is what influenced Paul McCartney to play that way. In addition, George Harrison also cited Slim as an early influence. And Michael Jackson is reported to have listed Slim Whitman as one of his favorite vocalists.
In all, Slim visited the country top forty twenty times, between 1952 and 1980. Eleven of those would result in top ten hits. Slim never had a number one hit in the U. S. A., but his 1954 hit, “Rose Marie” is one of the longest-running number one hits in British music history.
Today, we look at a 1961 release from Slim. The original title was “Just Call Me Lonesome”, but Imperial later re-released it under the title “Portrait”. It was issued in both stereo and mono versions. There was no Country album chart at that time, but one of the three singles released from the album, did appear on the Country top forty.
The album opens with Slim’s version of “Vaya Con Dios”. A song that is perfectly suited for Slim’s vocal styling; a styling that mixes Country, Western, and Pop. It’s a good, steady performance of an oft-recorded song, in fact, one of the better versions I’ve heard.
“Just Call Me Lonesome” was a 1955 hit for Eddy Arnold. Slim gives it a more polished treatment, a little more slickness to it, with a slightly different tempo, as well. It works pretty well, but I still like Eddy’s version, better. Slim’s version was also a single, in early 1960, but it failed to chart.
I guess that sometimes, one Eddy Arnold cover just isn’t enough, so we get a second, with “It’s A Sin”. Again, a more polished, slicker version that fits the Whitman style, but again, I still like Eddy’s version, best. This isn’t a bad version, though.
Another of those seemingly oft-recorded songs, especially way back when, is “I Love You Because”. Written by legendary songwriter Leon Payne (it was also his only hit as a singer, in 1950), This is actually a song that is almost perfectly suited for Whitman’s blend of crooning and yodeling. Good track.
“Sail Along Silv’ry Moon” dates to the 1930′s, but had been a big Pop hit in 1958 for Billy Vaughn’s orchestra. Again, a song that is perfectly suited for Whitman’s style. Good track, though the whistling part could have been left out and made and better.
Side one ends with Slim’s take on the Stuart Hamblen hit, “Remember Me (I’m The One Who Loves You)”. Best track on side one. Whereas the arrangements on the first five sound a bit dated, this one sounds more contemporary (for 1961), and has a nice beat. Slim does a stellar vocal, here. My favorite version of this is from Dean Martin, but Slim’s version isn’t too far behind.
Side two opens with the song that was the first single from the album, “Ramona”. Released in late 1960, it failed to chart. The song is an old song, first recorded in 1928, in hit versions by Delores Del Rio and Paul Whiteman. Later, in 1968, it would become a top ten Country hit for Billy Walker. Slim’s version is a bit bland, nothing special or spectacular.
His version of “The Old Lamplighter” is a bit better, but not as good as The Browns’ hit version. Slim’s version is slightly quicker in pace, but I think it’s the arrangement that hurts the track, as much as anything. Just not that good. His vocal isn’t bad, though.
Slim’s vocal style is one that can be very effective with the right song, as is the case with “I’d Climb The Highest Mountain”. Good vocal work, here, on a track that falls onto the lite and airy side of things.
“For All We Know” is a pleasant effort that could be better with some different instrumentation.
“The Bells That Broke My Heart” was the third single from the album, and the only one to chart, briefly peaking at thirty in the summer of 1961. An average track that is nothing particularly special.
“I’ll Do As Much As You Someday” is a decent song, with a decent performance, not a bad ballad to end the album.
This album is not on the market, but I did run across a few used copies, all under the original title, “Just Call Me Lonesome”, and most were falling in the $10 to $15 range.
I think “Remember Me” is the best track on the disc, and thus will get the “Standout Track”. As for the Hidden Gem, I think you will be surprised at how well he handles “Sail Along Sil’vry Moon”.
Overall, an album that falls into the average category. The vocal work is good, most of the songs are good and are in the style that works for Slim. What really hurts this album, though, is the arrangements. On several tracks, they sound dated, even for the time of the album’s release, and they come off as a confused mix of early fifties and early sixties; almost like they couldn’t decide if they wanted the music to sound like it did on Slim’s early records or more like what Jim Reeves was doing in 1961. Plus, the overall sound quality isn’t to the level, again by 1961 standards, as what was heard on other releases. It’s too bad, as it almost comes off as a wasted effort by Slim. One wonders what might have been different had Slim worked with a producer such as Chet Atkins, Don Law, Fred Foster, or Ken Nelson. I would rate this a 2.5 out of 5.
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