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I saw Tex Ritter perform not long before he died. I was visiting Nashville in the '70s when Ritter - once again - took center stage at the Grand Old Opry.

John Ritter's daddy didn't exactly sing up a storm that night. He was old, weary, hobbled - but he was still game. He sat on a stool at stage left - flashing a belt buckle the size of Texas - and growled the lyrics he'd probably growled 10,000 times: "Do not forsake me, Oh, my darlin' " from the movie "High Noon." And: "If the ocean were whiskey and I was a duck, I'd dive to the bottom and never come up. . . ."Ritter, of course, was from the clan of singing cowboys, the satin-shirt set with the silly neckerchiefs that featured Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Rex Allen and many others. Hollywood's "horse opera" crooners, in fact, gave us that word "western" in "country and western." And for years people have been trying to forget them, to write them off as Hollywood fantasies and Coca-Cola cowboys.

But over the past few years the singing cowboy has gotten another look and gained new stature. Randy Travis now sings duets with Rogers, aging oaters like Autry see their songs recycled, and record companies - like Capitol - are bringing out collections of classic singing cowboy material.

Hence this new 25-tune compact disc from Tex Ritter.

And if you're the type who likes to get a lot for your money, this may be your CD. There's almost 75 minutes of music here. Old songs from the '40s ("Jingle Jangle Jingle," "New Moon Over My Shoulder") have been digitally scraped clean and spiffed up. Newer tunes ("Buffalo Dream," "Rock and Rye") have been given more body.

No, this isn't Kris Kristofferson or George Strait; Ritter was a performer at "quarter deck," a man who never quite rose to the heights in movies or music. But this Capitol release shows him to be a singer who worked hard, worked often and worked for a long, long time.

Capitol has also tossed in a few extra perks for Ritter fans. "Big Rock Candy Mountain" comes complete with the studio banter that went on while Ritter waited for an airplane to pass over, old talkies such as "Daddy's Last Letter" and "Deck of Cards" reveal Ritter to be a respectable reader as well as singer.

A lengthy biography is included - with photographs - to build the case that Ritter indeed left a legacy.

After going through this CD, listeners will agree.