Though Al Hirt may have played better on earlier recordings, Honey in the Horn is in many ways the trumpeter's definitive album. Produced in Nashville by Chet Atkins, it marks Hirt's first session to include vocals (by the Anita Kerr Singers) and places his trademark commanding trumpet tone right up front. Though Hirt is, of course, from New Orleans, the backing band is composed of Atkins' A-list Music City stalwarts: saxophonist Boots Randolph, bassist Bob Moore, guitarist Grady Martin, and piano great Floyd Cramer. The match is a good one, though it should be noted that the music here is pop through and through; Atkins' genius as a producer was always to combine disparate elements into a cohesive and ultra-smooth whole. Don't expect a lot of chops-busting jazz improvisation (or even much Dixieland); the focus here is on stating the melody as clearly and cleanly as possible with a minimum of fuss. This Hirt does brilliantly, adding ad-lib flourishes so perfectly phrased that they sound written out. Although it's tempting to dismiss a record like this as simple elevator music, the extraordinary level of craftsmanship and sublime, no-frills playing places the album in a category with the finest minimalist art. Perhaps the best thing about Honey in the Horn, however, is the pure sonic beauty of it all. Hirt's trumpet is so masterfully recorded that even the lowest-end stereo system can fill a room with his lush sound (audiophiles should make sure to search out the original vinyl pressing). ~ Pemberton Roach
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