Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Patsy Cline

  • Live at the Opry [MCA, 1988] A-
  • Live Volume Two [MCA, 1989] B
  • Live at the Cimarron Ballroom [MCA, 1997] A-
  • The Definitive Collection [MCA Nashville, 2004] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Live at the Opry [MCA, 1988]
As someone who's always bought Cline's myth and never much enjoyed her recorded music, I can hardly express what a relief it is to hear her free of the glop that half-drowns the supposedly definitive Patsy Cline Story. The rockabilly raunch and uncanny phrasing her official work just hints at are the heart of these superbly remastered radio transcriptions--try the feral "Lovesick Blues" and the heart-stopping full-beat hesitations on "She's Got You," respectively. My only objection is that the compilers couldn't resist turning out a document, and thus include her debut flop and suchlike. There has to be a complete live best-of out there. And the world needs it. A-

Live Volume Two [MCA, 1989]
Not really live, just cut for subsequent broadcast in the studio with small band rather than countrypolitan arsenal. But that's not really the problem--the problem is what and to a lesser extent when. None of these songs were hits for Patsy even though some of them were released as singles, and though career trajectory is no doubt part of the reason, so is quality of material. And though he was good in 1956, she did get better. B

Live at the Cimarron Ballroom [MCA, 1997]
Cline's current iconicity (which for all I know could signal a heroic surge that will leave her as fixed a star as Aretha Franklin or Edith Piaf) is bound up in the vogue for pre/nonrock pop (which for all I know could prove permanent). Her Virginia twang mere seasoning in an unusually robust pop voice, she's Patti Page with guts. But the main reason she's remembered as the most credible of the countrypolitans is that countrypolitan was invented for her, by producer Owen Bradley. Entertaining the Southern folks who were her bread-and-butter--at maybe $500 a show, pickup backup provided--she was and remains something else. And this 1961 Tulsa gig with Leon McAuliffe's Cimarron Boys establish that the spare physicality and exquisite timing of her Grand Old Opry transcriptions are only a starting point. She could have used more rehearsal here. But the Western swing maestro led a band that was ready for anything, and Cline rose to their challenge as they did to hers: hard, high plains dance music, with her amazing trademark yowl at the end of "Lovesick Blues" a promise of the "Shake Rattle and Roll" she has all set to follow. A-

The Definitive Collection [MCA Nashville, 2004]
In tone, timbre, and timing, Cline was the best-equipped female country singer ever. Where Dolly, Loretta, and Tammy are all downhome in their own ways, her swinging drawl still evokes the fleshpots--Raleigh! Richmond! Washington, D.C.!--and it's hard to imagine a more intelligent document of her 15 months of fame. "Crazy," "I Fall to Pieces," "She's Got You," "Half as Much"--these are perfect songs perfectly sung, now remastered to eliminate the echo that once dulled them. But though she survives Owen Bradley's strings and Nashville cats, his choruses remain, and unless you're focused, forgiving, or a sucker for kitsch, their hmms and oohs and doo-doo-doos do her in. Essential singing and history in an economical package that was long overdue. Fans will love it. But except in research mode, I bet I still play her live stuff. A-

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