Album Review: Don Gibson - “The Best Of The Hickory Records Years”

While mostly known for his 1960s hits, this new release from the mighty Omnivore Recordings showcases the final run of singles and tracks recorded for his publishing company’s own record label, Hickory Records.

By the time Don Gibson was signed by Wesley Rose to Acuff-Rose owned record label Hickory Records in 1970, Gibson had largely become known more for his multiple marriages, addiction and poor professionalism that resulted (even resulting in being dropped by the Grand Ole Opry). A songwriter’s songwriter (with classics like “Sweet Dreams” “Oh, Lonesome Me” and “I Can’t Stop Lovin’ You” Among them), Gibson’s first recordings for Hickory were some songs he liked by other artists, among them a countrified take on the socially conscious Joe South Grammy-winning song “Games People Play.” Gibson's career had waned prior to his signing with his publisher but what happened in the coming eight years was simply a remarkable achievement and until the release of The Best Of The Hickory Records Years (1970-1978), it was largely unnoticed and forgotten in the modern, digital world.

Known for his melancholic song style (nicknamed “The Sad Poet”), informed from his hardscrabble early life, there are plenty of songs here which showcase heartache including “A Perfect Mountain,” “Bring Back Your Love To Me,” “What’s Happened To Me,” “If This Is The Best I’m Gonna Feel” and “There She Goes (I Wish Her Well).” Great writers know other great writers and that can be showcased throughout his time at Hickory where Gibson recorded some strong versions to add to the “Games People Play” cover. Hank Williams’ “(I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle,” Eddy Raven’s “Country Green,” Bobby Bond’s “I’ll Sing For You” and “If You’re Goin’ Girl” to Burt Bacharach’s “Any Day Now,” Mickey Newbury’s “If You Ever Get To Houston (Look Me Down)” and of course, “Woman (Sensuous Woman),” the song Don Gibson was so sure was a #1 single that he championed the Gary S. Paxton song and turned it into his first #1 in 14 years (and it’d go on to be his final hit).

With all that information it’s easy to see why Gibson, whose comeback wasn’t a given, became revered in the decade of songs chronicled on The Best Of The Hickory Years. Not only did Don Gibson record his own songs (new or old), he was willing to champion new talent like Raven (it was Raven’s first hit as a songwriter) and classics he and Wesley Rose, loved. Through it all, Gibson remained in strong voice and the album tracks curated and compiled for this release by Craig Shelburne and Cheryl Pawelski showcase why Don Gibson remained a vibrant talent until his retirement in the early 1980s.

As usual with Omnivore Recordings releases, The Best Of The Hickory Records Years (1970-1978) provides extensive liner notes (written by Craig Shelburne), release information and an overall brilliantly made presentation and package and quite honestly, a CD worth owning for that very reason. Add that to the wonderful, generous collection of 25 songs on this single CD and you’ve got one hell of a compilation and one that focuses on an era of an icon’s career that has often been overlooked, until now.