Versatile under-rated singer
Peter Durward Harris | Leicester England | 04/06/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"O C Smith, born Ocie Lee Smith, began his musical career as a jazz vocalist, even spending time as a vocalist with Count Basie, but is best known for his R+B / pop recordings of country songs, which dominate this twofer. O C's warm voice was particularly suited to ballads, but he could sing any type of song brilliantly.
He had one big UK hit with The son of Hickory Holler's tramp, the classic story-telling song written by prolific country songwriter Dallas Frazier. Controversial at the time of its release, it praises a mother who turned to prostitution after her husband deserted her, thereby ensuring that she could to feed her large family .That song scraped into the American top forty, but went all the way to number two in the UK. O C Smith wasn't able to consolidate his success in the UK, where he had just one further but minor hit almost a decade later with Together, but he used the success of that song as a springboard to further success in his American homeland.
By far his biggest American hit was Little green apples, which peaked at number two on the American Billboard pop and R+B charts, but he also had a series of minor hits and near-misses that allowed Columbia to release a greatest hits compilation in 1970. Up to that point, O C Smith had seven top 100 hits on the pop charts, together with four others that bubbled under. Perhaps the most familiar song here is Honey I miss you, which was only a minor hit for O C, but which was an American number one and UK number two hit for Bobby Goldsboro. Other highlights from this half of the twofer include Daddy's little man (about a son who the father only sees at weekends) and Friend lover woman wife (celebrating the joys of a happy marriage).
A further minor hit in 1970 with a cover of the Four Tops classic, Baby I need your loving, presumably came too late for inclusion on the original greatest hits release. It would have been nice to find it here as a bonus track, but it isn't here either.
The second half of this twofer is the 1971 album, Help me make it through the night, which was recorded in Nashville. Perhaps inevitable as a consequence of the success of The son of Hickory Holler's tramp and Little green apples, the album doesn't mark much of a departure from O C's earlier music. The title track was a new song in 1971, so although there have been numerous covers of this song, O C's version was among the earliest recordings of this classic Kris Kristofferson song. Among the other tracks here, the most familiar songs are For the good times (another Kristofferson classic), Watching Scotty grow (an American hit for Bobby Goldsboro) and Empty arms (originally written by and a hit for Ivory Joe Hunter, but probably best known via Teresa Brewer's cover, which was a bigger hit). Among the less famous but still excellent songs are covers of Tall oak tree (Dorsey Burnette) and Remembering (Jerry Reed).
Although his recording career continued for the next twenty years or so, commercial success eluded him. This is a wonderful twofer that acts as a fitting showcase to the talents of O C Smith."