Billy Ray Reynolds saw Hank Williams
play the Grand Ol' Opry when he was only nine; spent close to ten years playing guitar with Waylon Jennings
' band; wrote songs for the likes of Johnny Cash
, Tompall Glaser, and Tanya Tucker
; and even penned a tune for the Allman Brothers Band
(the band never cut it, but "Atlanta's Burning Down" became the title track of one of Dickey Betts
' solo albums). Given his background, you might expect that Reynolds' belated solo debut, Whole Lot of Memories, doesn't sound much like a contemporary country album, and that's the best thing about it. Billy Ray Reynolds' voice is a strong honky tonk instrument, buffed by years of bourbon and nicotine, and like his old buddy Waylon, he knows how to sound soulful and sensitive when he isn't busy raising hell. Reynolds' tunes are top-notch, whether he's making time with the ladies ("Whatever Turns You On"), earning the wrath of his wife ("She's Cleaning the House"), rescuing his true love during the Civil War ("Atlanta's Burning Down"), or just singing the honky tonk blues ("Tumbleweed"). Reynolds also rounded up some great pickers for these sessions, and Merle Haggard
stops by for a welcome cameo on "Two Step Me." While it's tempting to say Whole Lot of Memories is the sort of country album Nashville doesn't make any more, the truth is even in the good old days, they rarely turned out LPs as consistently pleasurable as this, and it's nice to know that Reynolds finally got to make a great solo album after close to 40 years in the business. I sure hope he doesn't have to wait as long to make another.