There’s something about vinyl that makes music special. There’s magic to putting the disc on the turntable, lowering the needle and watching it spin as the music begins. It especially enhances the experience of vintage music, and that makes this special vinyl version of Hank Thompson’s Songs for Rounders even more exciting. Of course, vinyl won’t make a bad recording good, but Songs for Rounders is a great recording on its own.
As the sticker on the album claims, Thompson was “outlaw county” before there was such a term. The songs on it were not your normal fare for popular music in the 1950s, a conservative era as a whole. Even the new rock and roll music was careful of its subject matter.
But every era has a fascination with outsiders and rebels who defy the conventions, and that is exactly what the gamblers, rovers, prostitutes, drinkers, and drug users in these songs are. Thompson was a country singer, but these songs include blues and folk tunes as well.
The tone ranges from the humorous “Teach ‘Em How to Swim” (which features lyrics like, “If I can’t drown my troubles/I’ll teach them how to swim”) to the very dark “Little Blossom,” which is my least favorite song on the album. I just have never gained a true appreciation for this type of tear jerker.
According to Amazon.com, this recording got its theme when Thompson brought “Cocaine Blues” to Ken Nelson, the head of Columbia’s A&R. Nelson told him the song would never get played on the radio but it might work as part of an album concept, so Thompson chose this and other songs for the recording, and an essential album was born. Today, it would be classified as “Americana.”
Many people know “Cocaine Blues” from Johnny Cash’s great version of it, but Thompson’s slightly lighter version works equally well. The folk songs, “Bummin’ Around,” and “Rovin’ Gambler,” and the Depression-era ballad, “May I Sleep in Your Barn Tonight, Mister?” are other favorites on the album. Elsewhere, “Deep Elm” refers to what was then the red-light district of Dallas, which was quite scandalous for the time.
The album was one of the first country records to be recorded in stereo, and though this version is remastered, Real Gone Music has done a very good job of maintaining the spirit of the original. Merle Travis, a great country musician in his own right, plays lead guitar on this album, and listening to the instrumental breaks is a pleasure.
The gorgeous album cover, with its saloon girls was quite shocking for its day, A really nice extra in this packaging is the full-size, full-color insert of the cover suitable for framing.
The music still sounds fresh and not at all dated; the packaging is a real treat, and overall, this album belongs in every lover of country music or Americana’s collection.