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Record Review

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To call Webb Pierce an unsung hero of country music is only a slight misnomer. Pierce was one of the biggest superstars in the history of the genre, with a string of hits in the '50s that would turn most other stars green with envy. In spite of this, his influence has been sadly overlooked by most contemporary artists, who instead cite Hank Williams, Patsy Cline and better-recognized names as their sources of inspiration.

Part of Pierce's lack of renown is political. He had a big falling out with the Country Music Association during the twilight of his life, and as a result was largely ignored by the industry in his final years. Even with his incredible popularity and musical success, he was not accepted to the Country Music Hall of Fame until 2000.

Nashville artist Gail Davies spearheaded the creation of Caught in the Webb. And based on the quality of the material and the status of the participants, it's clear that Pierce's legacy is legitimate. The singers range from classic country superstars such as George Jones, Willie Nelson and Charlie Pride to alt-country upstarts Dale Watson, Robbie Fulks and BR549. Include a few contemporary stars like Dwight Yoakam and Emmylou Harris, and you have some serious ringers on your side.

But the real power of this album is not the all-star lineup, but the richness and depth of the material. Pierce was a master of song selection, and his hit-making success speaks for itself. His songs were simple yet profound, honest and evocative, filled with heartache and love. When the sensuous voice of Mandy Barnett whispers "Slowly" ("I'm falling more in love with you"), your heart will melt, and as the sultry Allison Moorer tells of a forbidden "Back Street Affair," she'll make you wish you were there with her.

Most tribute records tend to be poorly done, self-serving, weak imitations of the icon they're supposedly honoring, but Caught in the Webb avoids all the usual pitfalls. It is an obvious labor of love, and a fine representation of country music at its best.

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