Wilf Carter - Montana Slim - A Prairie Legend (1944-1952 & 1959)
Bear Family Records. Release: 1993. W/Covers.
Four CDs containing more than 100 songs recorded by Wilf Carter aka Montana Slim between 1944 and 1952, and his self-produced sessions from 1959. Disc one features more than a dozen tracks with Carter accompanied primarily by his own acoustic guitar, and they're pretty fair cowboy songs. Carter's voice is a pleasing one, reminiscent at times of Gene Autry, but his repertory generally doesn't intersect much with Autry's -- the early electric-accompanied sides from 1947 are also very spare and have more of a raw quality than one would expect from this era. Disc two captures Carter at the beginning of his most commercial period for RCA, doing romantic ballads as well as his usual cowboy songs. Disc three covers the tail end of his RCA period, when Carter was trying for more of a pop sound, in keeping with the declining public response to cowboy songs -- the stuff is more sentimental, but Carter never strays too far from the playful mood of his best work. Disc four closes out the RCA years with numbers like the shockingly upbeat "Goodbye Maria (I'm Off to Korea)," probably the most cheerful song ever done about that war, and "Mockingbird Love," the song Carter believes helped cost him his RCA contract. The real highlight of this disc, however, is the stuff that Carter cut himself at the end of the 1950s, which mostly consists of really good cowboy material, all originals and all played in a spare, eloquent style with Carter's voice showing tremendous vigor. With his spoken introduction to the first of these numbers, these could have been the basis for a radio show, if only the time had been right, and they capture the spirit of Carter's earliest work in Alberta and on the CBC. ~ Bruce Eder