Late outlaw era country rock on lost album from 1979.
When Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings turned their back on the Nashville sound in the early 1970s in search of greater artistic freedom, they forged a new path for country artists. Under outlaw country, rhinestone suits were traded for leather jackets, Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers were as influential as George Jones and Hank Williams and the movement’s main protagonists set about giving two fingers to the establishment. But by the end of the decade, the candle had burned pretty low for outlaw country. The decadent production of the 1980s was just around the corner, cheered on by the MTV era and the quest for instant big money hits. Even Waylon Jennings was signalling his intention to hang up his spurs, with ‘Don’t You Think This Outlaw Bit’s Done Got out of Hand’, released in 1978. All of this makes ‘Appalachia’ – Loney Hutchins’ only proper album, recorded in 1979 – a fascinating document from a time when the winds of change were blowing strong across the plains of country music. Loney Hutchins had spent most of the 70s as a publishing manager at The House of Cash, coinciding with the rise and pinnacle of the outlaw country movement. He knew what it took to make an outlaw record.
It’s interesting then that on leaving the House of Cash to focus solely on his own music, Hutchins chose to make a record so at odds with the outlaw sound. Maybe he’d seen the writing on the wall. Whatever the thought process, Hutchins assembled a stellar band including Dolly Parton’s then live rhythm section (Paul Urhig and Tom Jones), along with electric lead guitarist (Harry Robinson). The result was a sound exponentially more modern than Hutchins’s tapes from the House of Cash. In short, ‘Appalachia’ is a bold, brash country rock record laden with FM radio production value.
There are moments of high fidelity rock swagger a’ la Steve Miller Band on tracks like ‘When You Fall In Love,’ country choogle on ‘Son of No Good Man,’ like Eddie Rabbit might’ve recorded, and stacked electric bluegrass harmonies on the lead off track, ‘Timbertree,’ the name of the Tennessee holler Hutchins was raised in. Though the group left the studio with a complete 10 track album, its release was delayed nearly 3 years as Hutchins shopped it to various A&R reps. The original 2” session tapes had a note taped to them from an Elektra rep reading, “*Good* band, too folkie.” Hutchins found himself with an album too country for LA and too rock for Nashville.
‘Appalachia’ was eventually released on an independent label in the early 80s and never achieved commercial success. We’ll never know if it might have done better on a major label, though it’s tempting to conclude that it might have. Either way, its restoration and re-release in 2022 is a great celebration of a neon-country ripper.