Liner Note Author: Holly George-Warren.
Photographer: Les Leverett.
Patsy Cline is as iconic as an American singer can get, but it's easy to forget that she rose to fame at a time when country music was considered a second-rate format by much of the music industry -- there was money to be made in it, but "hillbilly music" was hardly considered worthy of respect. Cline was one of the first singers to challenge that, making records that were cool and sophisticated but still clearly country, but the business barely began to warm to her talents (and the notion of a country-to-pop crossover) before she died in a tragic place crash in the spring of 1963. On the Air: Her Greatest TV Performances collects 14 live numbers recorded for television broadcasts in 1962 and early 1963, and it's worth noting that 11 of them were drawn from the archives of the Pet Milk Grand Ole Opry show, a decidedly low-rent syndicated program where the performers shared air time with pitches for dairy products. However, while this music may have been recorded under humbling circumstances, Cline never sounds less than stellar; these performances, cut with her road band, lack a bit of the gloss of the studio versions she recorded with producer Owen Bradley, but Cline's vocals are remarkably agile and full-bodied, and there's a bit more emotional heat in some of these tunes than in their cooler, more refined vinyl versions. Cline always had a knack for a weeper, and without overplaying it, she mines "She's Got You," "Why Can't He Be You," and "A Church, A Courtroom, Then Good Bye" for all the heartache they're worth, and she just as ably finds a jazzy swing in "I Fall to Pieces" and "Walking After Midnight" that would have been the envy of any supper club vocalist. And her versions of "Blue Moon of Kentucky" and "San Antonio Rose" make it clear that she could sound classy and country at the same time, while taking C&W standards and making them all her own. It's a shame that there aren't more examples of Patsy Cline's skills as a live performer available to the public, and at less than 35 minutes, On the Air only adds so much to the catalog, but for anyone who has ever loved her way with a song, this is a truly valuable find. ~ Mark Deming
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