Henson Cargill was never really a heavyweight when it comes to country stars of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. People like George Jones, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and even Dolly Parton come to mind much quicker. Nonetheless, Cargill did have some hits of his own, thank you very much. And while thousands of country fans continue to be pissed off at the fact that older albums on vinyl have yet to, or will never see, the light of day on CD, some will take solace that Cargill’s run with Monument Records is at least here for a listen. It’s an interesting and rather exhaustive 27-track collection of music the baritone performer recorded in the period from 1967 to 1970.
Cargill’s voice is clear and quite strong, judging by the rather late ‘60s country ditty “Reprints (Plastic People)” which could be about the current rat race among those tied to the Monday-to-Friday, nine-to-five work week. The tune takes a slightly different approach from the standard country song in that it changes gears and also contains a rather trippy, heady organ / keyboard in the distance. From there, Cargill takes a slower, more traditional approach with the fine toe-tapping “None of My Business”. But it is his signature tune, “Skip a Rope” that marks the first and perhaps biggest highlight of the album and possibly Cargill’s career. It’s a quirky kind of number that isn’t a novelty song but has the aura about it. Another stronger track is the socially conscious, “Row Row Row” that again finds Cargill changing the gears and tempo for the chorus. This sort of statement returns with “Tall Oak Tree” and its let’s all join hands kind of vibe.
The album seems to move over a myriad of genres, from the larger sounding songs to ones such as “Wildflower”, which is perfect singer-songwriter fodder despite the harmonies in the distance. The only difference here is that the large, rather bombastic chorus arrangements of country songs from that time period are thankfully not found present. But “Hemphill Kentucky Consolidated Coalmine” has a certain kind of white soul to it, with some subtle organ accents and a slightly rock-tinged chorus. Another good tune, and perhaps highlight to some is how Cargill’s baritone comes to the fore during the mid-tempo “Johnny One Time”. A real miscue or clunker comes with “What’s My Name?” which sounds like it came from some musical inspired by “Hair”. That said, “Greenback Dollar” is a decent redeeming kind of ditty reminiscent of an early inspiration for Harry Chapin’s “Cats In the Cradle” in terms of melody. Meanwhile, “Four Shades Of Love” sounds like a cross between Glen Campbell and the late Charlie Rich.
The second half of the album isn’t that much different from the first, beginning with “The Pain Will Go Away” (with Cargill’s vocals front and center) as does the country-meets-spacey “Six White Horses”. “Husbands and Wives” is also quite nice and mellow, but it’s at this point in the album where some people’s interest might start to wane a bit. And the compilers of the collection perhaps recognized this too, as “Coming On Strong” is an up-tempo and bouncy tune in the vein of Charley Pride. Unfortunately, the latter half also contains some sub-par efforts such as the dour and downbeat “A Candle For Amy”, containing backing harmonies by the Jordanaires. In fact, all the vocal accompaniments are by the Jordanaires, but it’s hard to salvage a song like “I Wonder Where They’ll Sleep Tonight” as it fades out quite quickly and oddly.
The last few songs are highlighted by “Black Jack County Chain”, bringing to mind the late Townes Van Zandt with a studio and session musicians at his disposal. And the tender, blues-tinted “Little Girls and Little Boys” is also somewhat sweet. It’s an album that has one song everyone knows, and a few you’ll be glad you know now.