Ray Price’s greatest commercial success came in the late 1960s, riding the fading swell of the countrypolitan sound that emerged out of Nashville studios in the late ’50s and threatened to take what was then known as country & western music into the larger realm of pop. From the outside looking in, countrypolitan was an uptown, sophisticated take on mainstream country, lush with strings accompanied by a full-blown orchestra and embellished with production as slick as the tuxedos its best crooners wore onstage to neutralize the music’s overall farmboy rep.
Patsy Cline’s “Crazy”, Jim Reeves’ “He’ll Have To Go” and just about anything produced by Chet Atkins or Owen Bradley or backed by the Anita Kerr Singers epitomized the sound. But no one put their stamp on countrypolitan quite like Ray Price. His soaring, soulful vocal renditions of “Funny (How Time Slips Away)”, “Danny Boy” and “For The Good Times” took country on one of those proverbial trips from the outhouse to the penthouse, only he did it in a way that didn’t alienate traditionalists. That had a lot to do with Price coming to the big dance direct from the honky-tonks. Being Hank Williams’ roommate for the last year of Hank’s life was another bona fide that didn’t hurt.
But the real secret of his appeal was that for all the buffing and polishing, Price was pretty much carrying on as he’d always done, playing western music — as opposed to country — descended from western swing, which was nothing but big-band music filtered through players with country roots. Countrypolitan indeed.
Price and one-time Cherokee Cowboy sideman Willie Nelson haul out that countrypolitan/western/swing amalgam for another glide around the dancefloor on Run That By Me One More Time. Neither is at their peak vocally; each has reached a post-classic phase not dissimilar to Sinatra after 50. The instrumentation alone — walking 4/4 bass, brushes gently pushing the shuffle rhythm, fiddle doing the crying, pedal steel out front deftly skipping in and around the beat and melody — neutralizes that shortcoming.
The plush sonic naugahyde showcases David Zettner, one of the most underrated steel players alive, while cushioning Willie and Ray’s vocals on Floyd Tillman’s “This Cold War With You”, through Price’s lilting lead on Willie’s “I’ve Just Destroyed The World I’m Living In”, all the way to the morose last call of Price warbling over a Willie blues, “I’m Still Not Over You”. Odd, then, that they hit their vocal high note on the title track, a brief departure from the lounge cocoon in which their hillbilly harmonies sound like they were just dragged in from the cotton patch, if not the hollows of Appalachia.
Which proves you can have it both ways and sound like you wear cufflinks when you do “Danny Boy” and “Stardust”, and still dance with those what brung you when it comes to scooting boots to the beat of “Home In San Antone”. At least if you’re Ray and Willie you can. That may not translate into a million-dollar seller, but it sure makes good art that you can two-step to.