Arrangers: Hank Levine; Hank Thompson; Harold Bradley; Harold Hensley; Joe Allison; Billy Gray.
Hank Thompson didn't stop recording or having hits when he left Capitol Records, although given the lack of attention paid to his Warner and Dot albums (along with their scarcity on CD), it sometimes seems that way. Fact of the matter is, Thompson continued to chart steadily into the early '70s and as late as 1979 he had a Top 30 country hit. Also, he continued to deliver satisfying music, as Varese's terrific 1996 collection The Best of Hank Thompson: 1966-1979 proves. Spanning 16 tracks, this covers his brief time at Warner (he signed with them shortly after leaving Capitol in 1965 and was gone by 1968) and his decade stint at Dot (which eventually became ABC, then MCA); there are four Warner cuts, including a duet with Merle Travis, with the remaining 14 drawn from Dot/ABC. While it is true that his backing bands weren't quite as stunning as they were during the peak of his Capitol recordings and his material was a little inconsistent, with the productions being considerably more polished and streamlined, these are relative assessments -- compared to other straight-ahead country from the same era, Thompson's Warner and Dot material ranks very high indeed, and it's aged very well. Thompson's gifts as a writer, singer, and bandleader were so prodigious it would have been shocking if they had disappeared completely just because a few years passed and he switched labels, yet it's still a nice surprise to hear how flat-out fun this collection is. Thompson remains a sharp, clever songwriter -- he's great finding small, funny truths and twisting commonplace phrases, as on "He's Got a Way With Women" (which is followed up with "and he's just got away with mine") -- and a great judge of material, finding songs that suited his warm, friendly voice and his similarly wide open-hearted band. Even when a song gets a little silly -- such as "I See Them Everywhere," when Thompson starts seeing little green men when the bottle empties -- his delivery is so charming and the band so good, it's easy to roll along and just enjoy the sound of the band. Not all of his charting hits for Dot are here, but most are and it's a great summary of the latter half of Thompson's active recording career, offering substantial proof that when he was at his best, he was still as good as ever was. Hopefully, more of this material -- either reissues of actual albums or a box set -- will see eventually see the light of day. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine