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When it came to musical heroes Hoyt Axton in my estimation is up there among an elite few of those who rarely if ever disappointed. Son of Mae Axton who wrote, ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ Hoyt after coming through the American folk scene of the early 1960s was at the top of his game during the 1970s and beyond, as his free-flowing, spontaneous style of country that was a million miles away from his less adventuress earlier work grasped the attention of a wider audience.
A great songwriter, having written such songs as ‘The Pusher’, ‘Joy To The World’ and ‘Never Been To Spain’ as heard here Axton brought a special joy to the music scene (he also gained credit as an actor; starring in the movies The Gremlins and The Black Stallion) as he surrounded himself by good pickers and female harmony and duet vocalists. Of the latter he had fellow MCA recording act Tanya Tucker partner him on ‘You Taught Me How To Cry’ (Snowblind Friend, 1977), and what a fine performance it is too.
While the majority of songs on the record are his own there is still room for a version of Townes Van Zandt’s ‘Poncho & Lefty’ and though good I do consider the efforts of Emmylou Harris, Merle Haggard – Willie Nelson and Townes own take as being better. That is not to take anything away from the rich, deep toned singing of him since he knocks me dead with ‘Water The Horses’, the Mexican flavoured ‘I Light This Candle’ and the magnificent ‘Funeral Of The King’. A song that captures him at his innovative best.
Free Sailin’ (1978) that makes up the 21-track album had a lot to live up to after a superb sequence of recordings that started with his A & M years (1973-1976) but such is his form he scrapes through. Despite the fact it lacked an outstanding songs. But with him in good form and the likes of Jeff Baxter, Dawson, Byron Berline, Doug Dillard, Jim Keltner, Bill Kirchen and Pete Grant in support it is hard to be overtly critical.
Especially on taking in the likes of ‘Bluebird’ (written by Ronee Blakely with whom he has sang before), ‘Honky Tonk Music’ (that has Grant play some mighty pedal steel) and his own song ‘Darrell & Judy’ plus a funky styled ‘Jive Man’. A fun piece containing good vocal harmonies and Dawson on harmonica.
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