Album Reviews

Tennessee Ernie Ford

Portrait Of An American Singer (1949-1960)

Artist:     Tennessee Ernie Ford

Album:     Portrait Of An American Singer (1949-1960)

Label:     Bear Family Productions

Release Date:     09/25/2015


No expense has been spared on this spectacular box set celebrating the career of the pioneer boundary-breaker of the 1950s. Before Elvis Presley made white sound black, Tennessee Ernie Ford recorded a series of boogies (1949’s “Smokey Mountain Boogie” and 1950’s “Shotgun Boogie,” for example), and 60-plus years before Taylor Swift made a fortune on country charts singing pop songs, Ford recorded the first of his many crossover hits: “I’ll Never Be Free,” and by 1955, his signature “Sixteen Tons,” which hit Number One on the pop and country charts, and remained on each for ten and eight weeks respectively. The first country artist to win the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1984 (Sinatra won in ’85), Ford sold some 90 million records—not bad for a full-time TV host who moonlighted as a part-time recording artist.

Respected artists who cite this innovative artist as a string influence are almost exclusively innovative themselves: John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Tom Waits, Jeff Beck, Elton John, Nick Lowe and the Clash, for a few examples.

Known to the general public for “Sixteen Tons,” Ford dropped from the music-fan radar for decades, but with any luck, this release may spur renewed interest and recognition. This 5-CD set contains 154 tracks and a 124-page hardcover book with new essays on Ford, track-by-track album notes, memorabilia and rare photos. Curated by Grammy-nominated music historian Ted Olson, the collection is as beautiful as it is comprehensive. One caveat: make sure your bookshelf is sturdy, ‘cause this one’s big and heavy (but worth its weight in gold).

– Suzanne Cadgène

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