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CD Reviews: Review of Big Boss Man by The Kentucky Headhunters
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Click here to buy yourself a copy from Amazon.com The Kentucky Headhunters: Big Boss Man (Rcr / Cbuj Ent. 2005)

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If there’s one certainty in the music business, it’s this: if you keep recording long enough, eventually, you’ll release an album consisting of nothing but covers. Sometimes, it’s for fun, sometimes it’s for contractual obligation purposes, but, eventually, it’s gonna happen.

The Kentucky Headhunters waited awhile before getting around to releasing their contribution to the genre – Big Boss Man, which takes its title from the Elvis number that leads off the collection – but this certainly isn’t the group’s first foray into covers. In fact, if you delved into their entire back discography, stretching back to 1989’s Pickin’ On Nashville, you’d easily be able to compile an album’s worth of covers, ranging from Bill Monroe to the Lovin’ Spoonful, Norman Greenbaum to Carl Perkins.

With Big Boss Man, however, the Headhunters went in with a specific premise in mind: to record songs taken from the Sony/ATV song catalog. The idea came about via Tom Long, an employee with the publishing firm in question who, as it happens, has been affiliated with the band off and on since he first saw them perform in...get ready to gasp at this date...1976. (If you’ve ever noticed how tight the Headhunters sound on their albums, well, that’s what happens when you play together for almost two decades – they were founded in 1968 – before releasing your major-label debut!)

Given the size of the Sony/ATV catalog -- to give you an idea, Long sent the band 2500 possible songs to consider, and that ain’t even close to scratching the surface -- it’s unfortunate that the band went with a few pedestrian choices. “Hey Good Lookin’,” for instance, has probably been covered enough times already, even if the Headhunters do add a bit of boogie-woogie piano courtesy of guest Reese Wynans. On the other hand, however, the version of Patsy Cline’s “Walkin’ After Midnight” is changed from a major to a minor key; the dark result reinvents the song from romantic ode to stalker’s ballad.

The most fun comes via Roger Miller’s “Chug A Lug,” a song so perfect for the Headhunters that it’s a wonder they didn’t record it years ago, but the great discovery -- all covers albums should have one -- comes via Buck Owens’ “Made in Japan.” If Dwight Yoakam didn’t successfully convince you that Owens was a country legend before “Hee-Haw,” let the Headhunters give it a try. The aforementioned title track may well make you forget that the band are country boys at heart; it’s all about the rock...but, then again, Elvis did perform it at his ’68 comeback show, so that may go without saying.

A few songs play like a by-the-numbers cover band at the local saloon (“Like A Rolling Stone,” for one, isn’t changed enough to get excited about), but if there’s any real disappointment to the album, it’s the closer, a version of the Beatles’ “I’m Down.” It isn’t that the Headhunters’ rendition of the track is bad, although it does descend into guitar solo hell toward the end; it’s just that the New Grass Revival did a country interpretation of the song some years ago which set the industry standard, and...well, to be polite, let’s just say that the Revival ain’t exactly running scared.

Big Boss Man is the sound of a bunch of guys let loose in the studio to have a blast. It might not be essential listening, but, at its best, it’s a hoot, and that’s certainly enough to warrant a few spins. 

~Will Harris 


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