Out Here

Rockin' bones

Greatest Grooves
"Groovey" Joe Poovey
Dragon Street Records

Joe Poovey died last October, just months before this gem of a retrospective hit stores, promising the comeback Poovey used to dream of. He proofread the liner notes, and then, that very night, checked out for good. Maybe he knew he could finally relax: The songs on Greatest Grooves leave no doubt that he was one of North Texas' all-time greats--from his novelty beginnings in the early 1950s as a teen-hillbilly guitarist to his sunset days in the 1980s and '90s as a straight-up country player and sometime rockabilly revivalist.

Poovey racked up a staggering 50 years of playing, writing, and singing in that raspy, bright-pitched twang, and he never lost sight of what made the music great in the first place--the details, the inherent reverence for the genres he was shuffling and scrambling as a player and then, years later, as a disc jockey on KNON-FM. He was honky-tonk, R&B, bluegrass, a bit of swing--in other words, rockabilly and then some. If nothing else, this disc offers a reminder that Poovey belonged, at least for a while, in the same category with the likes of Johnny Dollar, Gene Vincent, and Ronnie Dawson as one of the roots-scorching heroes haunting Dallas stages then and now. Dawson may be more savage with his guitar-slinging, but Poovey was just as versatile and oh-so-smooth.

The 24 tracks on Greatest Grooves--the third disc in producer David Dennard's "Legends of the Big 'D' Jamboree Series"--fall in almost-chronological order, and to be sure, the early stuff packs a more immediate, nostalgic charm than the later, more slick-sounding tracks. "Move Around," recorded at the long-gone Sellars Studios in 1958, kicks things off with all the promise of a hot summer night and a cold gin and tonic, and things skip smoothly from the mid- to late 1950s, painting a sonic picture of a man well-acquainted with every in-place style--from Hank Williams' two-step drawl to Jerry Lee Lewis' burnin' piano to the sha-la-la swoon of early vocal groups. But the potentially abrupt skip from 1959's "Livin' Alone" to 1980's "Ocean of Diamonds" is surprisingly seamless. The latter tune was recorded in someone's living room in Fort Worth, and its rough, cool mix is an impressive show of Poovey's ongoing dedication to substance over style.

Only when Poovey gets into his slippery-pro remake of the already perfect "Ten Long Fingers" (the rockin' "Johnny B. Goode"-like tune that launched his career in the 1950s and kept the flames of appreciation burning for Poovey in Europe during the lean and hungry early '80s) do we see cracks in his armor of integrity. The same goes for his goofy anthem to Deep Ellum--"Deep Ellum Rock," released in 1997. But in this industry, two bad apples out of 24 ain't bad at all. Hell, it's damned near saintly.

--Christina Rees