Hank Penny Crazy Rhythm/The Standard Transcriptions (Bloodshot/Soundies)

Crazy Rhythm/The Standard Transcriptions (Bloodshot/Soundies)

Record Reviews

Hank Penny

Crazy Rhythm/The Standard Transcriptions (Bloodshot/Soundies)

People tend to think of music from the Forties and Fifties as falling readily into clear-cut categories, but that wasn't always true. With Hank Penny, that was anything but the case. Penny had a reputation as a stubborn misfit, making music that no one could easily pigeonhole, and his career suffered for it; he never had the cachet of many other, less inventive artists. Though nominally "Western swing," Penny's music (by his own admission) touched on Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Stan Kenton more liberally than contemporaries like Bob Wills or Spade Cooley. His small combo and accordion even call to mind Pee Wee King's Midwestern polka-swing at times. Bloodshot's reissue of this early Fifties material finds Penny wavering between goofy novelty numbers ("I Like the Wide Open Spaces," "Big-Footed Sam") and pure-and-simple swing instrumentals (the head-scratching "Progressive Country Music for a Hollywood Flapper"). Despite the borderline-insane lyrics and odd titles, though, the caliber of the playing is what shines through on these songs. Plenty of familiar names passed through Penny's band -- Merle Travis, Roy Clark, steel player Speedy West, and singer Jaye P. Morgan of Seventies Gong Show infamy -- and the result are on this disc: sparkling, energetic, inspired, and utterly impossible to classify. Aficionados of Western swing who aren't familiar with Penny owe it to themselves to pick this up and give it a spin.

***

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