Audio Remasterer: Vic Anesini.
Liner Note Author: Colin Escott.
There have been plenty of Porter Wagoner compilations released over the years, but Real Gone Music's 2016 double-disc set The Definitive Collection is the only collection to dig deeply into Wagoner's solo career. Certainly there has been no shortage of Wagoner CDs -- usually budget-line quickies, plus a complete box of his work with Dolly Parton from Bear Family, a pair of a single CDs from RCA highlighted by 2002's RCA Country Legends, and a host of conceptual compilations such as The Rubber Room, issued in 2006 by Omni. Wagoner certainly had a gothic streak so melodramatic it bordered on kitsch, but the last decade of reissues from Omni and Bear Family -- who played up Wagoner's dark side through their triple-disc The Cold Hard Facts of Life -- tended to emphasize this trend over Wagoner's actual hits, which is what The Definitive Collection puts back into the equation. Over the course of 40 songs, almost all of the big hits he had between 1954's "Company's Comin'" and 1974's "Highway Headin' South" are here -- the exceptions are the duets with Norma Jean and Dolly Parton, of course -- and what's striking is how the darker moments feted retroactively are balanced by lighter, livelier moments like "Big Wind" or simple roadhouse ballads like "Turn the Jukebox Up Louder." The result is a richer portrait of Wagoner, one that shows why he was an Opry favorite: he may have indulged in heated tragedy but he was also an entertainer and these sides are showcased on this, the best compilation ever assembled on this seminal Nashville star. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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