The Somber Sound of Porter Wagoner

The late Porter Wagoner is a country music icon. Though most country music fans likely remember Porter Wagoner for his bright, rhinestone suits and his duets with Dolly Parton, Porter has a rich, creative musical catalog. Out of Silence Came a Song: The Somber Sound of Porter Wagoner serves as a comprehensive introduction to Porter’s solo efforts.

“Rubber Room”- Imagining tales of psychos in rubber rooms emanating from the smiley, amiable Porter Wagoner is probably difficult to comprehend. However, Porter is quite the master of tales from life’s “other side.” “Rubber Room” tells the tale of a disturbed man who experiences men screaming women names and senselessly running into walls, while residing in a mental institution. This song’s narrator not only expresses wariness toward his fellow inmates, he seems to express a wariness toward his overseers when he sings “I hear footsteps pounding on the floor, Lord I hope they don’t stop at my door…,” which places the narrator in an especially unstable dilemma. What makes this song especially unsettling for the listener is the tremolo Porter places on his voice, which creates an atmosphere of distance and isolation.

“George Leroy Chickashea”- The celestial choir, hauntingly persistent pedal steel guitar, and disco-like guitar licks give this song an almost funky quality, which is strangely appropriate. This funky song recounts the life of a Native American who is so tough he told a snake to crawl to the woods and die, after being bitten by the aforementioned snake. In fact, Chickashea is so rough-neck, the only way he’s caught by authorities is when he decides to voluntarily cede his life to the authorities. Like “Rubber Room,” this song demonstrates Porter’s versatility as an adept songwriter.

“Bottom of the Bottle”- Perhaps one of the slowest, most depressing country songs I’ve ever heard, “Bottom of the Bottle” is a well-written song about a drunkard who’s drinking to forget lost love. However, this story’s especially sad when the narrator sings “they all tell me that last night my baby came in and she walked to my table to forgive me, again. My eyes caught a memory and my mind tried in vain. I said your face looks familiar but I can’t call your name.” Hard to imagine a drunken condition worse than that of not recognizing the woman one’s hoping to gain forgiveness from, in the first place. Additionally, the sparse instrumental arrangement of this song, with its curt, yet ever-present, pedal steel guitar and lone fiddle, gives the listener a sense of total loss and defeat.

This album could, essentially, serve as the only Porter Wagoner album one will ever have to purchase. Along with the songs I reviewed, this album contains a duet with Dolly Parton (“The Party”), Porter’s poetry (“Moments of Meditation”), and his classic murder ballad “Cold Hard Facts of Life.” Like most of the albums I review, this album is perfect for anyone interested in becoming more acquainted with genuine country music.

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