This box and its 113 songs cover the years 1945 through 1972, and the least known side of Sheb Wooley's career, but the one where he started out -- as a country singer and songwriter, first fronting a Western swing-style band and later working in the straight commercial Nashville style. Warning to casual Sheb Wooley fans -- there's no "Purple People Eater" here, or any sign of Wooley's "Ben Colder" comedy alias. Most were never on LP, and only a handful have been available in decades. The first ten cuts on this box, dating from 1945 and 1947, reveal him as a talented, smooth Gene Autry
-type singer with more depth and range, with a good Western swing band behind him. On the MGM sides, beginning in 1948, the music is more polished, and the mix of songs is weighted more toward sentimental ballads. The middle section of this box shows us a fascinating set of possibilities -- starting at the dawn of the 1950s, Wooley began merging Western swing with some components of R&B; his music could easily have moved toward rock & roll, but Wooley evidently wasn't comfortable making that jump. The material from the 1960s and early 1970s is utterly polished, and some of it is beautiful, commercial country music, using all of the smooth Nashville techniques. The assembly of the discs is also strange, mostly owing to the fact that after 1961, a huge amount of Wooley's studio time was given over to comedy tracks as "Ben Colder," leaving big gaps in his "straight" output for years at a time. The accompanying booklet contains a finely detailed account of Wooley's career.