Super-kitsch that holds its own with anything by cinema auteurs David Lynch and Sam Fuller, Porter Wagoner’s circa-1970 recordings seethe with heavenly female vocals and guitars that delicately echo and go sproing in the foreground. Wagonmaster finds producer Marty Stuart playing off the legacy of trendy Wagoner favorites from that era like “The Carroll County Accident” and “The Rubber Room,” but it’s no revisionist move. The record nods out, swings, and goes off its rocker just like in the old days, and Wagoner’s casual mention of “the superstar’s ex-drummer tryin’ to kick benzedrine” in the Johnny Cash–penned “Committed to Parkview” slams the coffin shut on almost anybody’s dream of country music.
Quite clearly an early advocate of expanded consciousness who saw something malign in the mirror, Wagoner might be the only country performer who went head-to-head with the ’60s and beat the decade at its own game. On 1967’s “Out of the Silence (Came a Song),” Porter sang, “You have the legs to walk along/While others are born lame/You have a mind to think with/While others are insane,” as if he were an acid prophet in some American International LSD movie. With songs that mention drunkenness, insanity, and even car theft, Wagonmaster is surreal and deadpan, the work of a deranged prophet who only wishes to know his own mind.