My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Tag Archives: Lowell George

Album Review: Glen Campbell – ‘Reunion: The Songs Of Jimmy Webb’

reunionThe songwriter most closely associated with Glen Campbell’s career, and the writer of some of his best known songs, is Jimmy Webb. In 1974 Glen paid tribute to his friend with this album, with Webb acting as arranger and providing the sweeping strings so familiar from the crossover hits. None of the songs is as accessible as those famous ones, but there is much to appreciate here if you listen closely.

The sole single, ‘It’s A Sin When You Love Somebody’, reached a peak of only #16 country and #39 AC, but is perhaps the most commercial song on the album. The gospel undertones in the arrangement are appropriate for a song about the intensity of passionate love and divine condemnation/forgiveness.

My favourite track is the beautiful ‘You Might As Well Smile’, which has a gorgeous melody and a comforting message about the aftermath of a relationship. Also very good is the wistful ‘Wishing Now’, about separation from a loved one.

‘Just This One Time’ is a passionately delivered appeal to a lover to trust him:

And I know I’ve given you every reason
In this whole round world to fear me now
But my love’s a raging river
And you trapped it in your hands, sweet darlin’

I also very much like ‘I Keep It Hid’, on the theme of feelings enduring past the official breakup.

I was a little bored by the reproachful ‘Ocean In His Eyes’, another song about a failed relationship. Webb took the title of ‘The Moon’s A Harsh Mistress’ from a similarly titled science fiction novel by Robert Heinlein; the song is a dreamy and presumably metaphorical reflection on failure and loss, which Glen sings beautifully. ‘Adoration’ hides a bitchy putdown under a pretty surface.

Surprisingly, the album did not consist exclusively of Jimmy Webb tunes. Jimmy’s sister Susan Webb wrote ‘About The Ocean’, a pleasant sounding ballad with a melancholy feel and slightly elusive lyric which appears to be about a breakup. ‘Roll Me Easy’, written by Southern Rocker Lowell George (and known elsewhere by the variant title ‘Roll ‘Um Easy’), has a nice breezy feel and although not an obvious choice for Glen, Webb’s arrangement ensures it fits in quite nicely.

I wouldn’t categorise this as a country album in any way, but it is impeccably conceived and performed, and is a favourite for many of Glen Campbell’s fans. As a bonus the 2001 re-mastered reissue includes ‘Wichita Lineman’ and ‘By The Time I Get to Phoenix’.

Grade: A-

Country Heritage Redux: Johnny Darrell (1940-1997)

The following is an updated version of Paul W. Dennis’ article, which was previously published by The 9513.

One of life’s biggest mysteries (or at least one of country music’s biggest mysteries) is why Johnny Darrell (1940-1997) never became a star. Arguably country music’s first “outlaw,” Darrell recorded for United Artists, a major label, from 1965 to about 1973, but United was only a bit player in country music, and so Darrell’s records didn’t get the major promotional effort they deserved. Moreover, Darrell had the reputation of being difficult and somewhat unreliable because of his drinking.

Darrell had a clear, strong, and masculine voice – somewhere between tenor and baritone, but his true strength was in identifying great songs and great songwriters. Among the songs he was the first to record were (with subsequent cover artist in parenthesis):

• “Green Green Grass of Home” #12 CB (Porter Wagoner, Tom Jones)
• “Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town” #7 CB / 9 BB (Kenny Rogers)
• “Son of Hickory Holler’s Tramp” #14 CB / 22 BB (O.C. Smith)
• “With Pen in Hand” #3 BB / 4 CB (Billy Vera, Vikki Carr)

Darrell’s biggest hit was “With Pen In Hand,” which rose to #3 on the country charts. A much inferior cover by Billy Vera was simultaneously a hit on the pop charts, and if United Artists had done a decent job of promoting and distributing Darrell’s version – which was nearly impossible to find for purchase in many parts of the country – it almost surely would have crossed over and taken the place of Vera’s.

Darrell’s most remembered record today is his rocking version of “Why You Been Gone So Long,” written by Mickey Newbury, which rose to #17 BB/20 CB with a smattering of pop airplay as well.

All told, United Artists issued seven albums on Darrell, plus a handful of budget reissues on its Sunset label:

As Long As The Winds Blow (1966, United Artists)
Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town (1967, United Artists)
The Son of Hickory Holler’s Tramp (1968, United Artists)
With Pen in Hand (1968, United Artists)
Why You Been Gone So Long (1969, United Artists)
California Stop-Over (1970, United Artists)
The Best Of Johnny Darrell (1970, United Artists)

His first five albums followed the usual pattern for country albums: one or two singles, a few covers, and some filler. Where Darrell’s albums differed from the norm, however, was in the fact that the filler wasn’t really filler at all, and that the covers were sometimes of lesser hits. His first album featured an early Kris Kristofferson song, “Don’t Tell My Little Girl,” as well as a Bobby Bare composition, “Passin’ Through,” and his second, Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town, featured a June Carter/Johnny Cash composition, “She’s Mighty Gone.”

The majority of Darrell’s catalogue was recorded in Nashville, but due to his inability to score the big country hit, United Artists tried recording his later work in California. It was there that Johnny uncovered gems by then-largely unknown songwriters such as Mickey Newbury, Lowell George, Jackson Browne and Ronnie Self. Unfortunately, the album California Stop-Over again failed to produce hits, but did eventually become a collector’s item, especially among fans of The Byrds, due to Clarence White’s guitar work on the album.

After the relative commercial failure of California Stop-Over, United Artists and Darrell parted company, largely marking the end of his career, but for only a few more singles and one more album of new material (Water Glass Full of Whiskey, Capricorn, 1975).

After a lengthy hiatus, Johnny Darrell returned to performing and songwriting during the late 1980s but after that he was generally out of sight and out of mind for the last decade of his life. Given how little recognition he got during his peak years, this didn’t represent much of a change for him. Among the few accolades he received were Cashbox Magazine’s “Most Promising Male Artist” for 1966, and selection, after his death, as an Achiever to the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.

Darrell struggled with a deadly combination of alcohol and diabetes, leading to his untimely death at age 57. Unfortunately, very little of the singer’s material is now commercially available – the Australian label Raven issued a CD combining his greatest hits with California Stop-Over in 1999 (Singin’ It Lonesome — The Very Best… 1965-1970), a collection currently available from the Ernest Tubb Record Shop and well worth acquiring. More readily available is The Complete Gusto/Starday Recordings, an album of remakes which find Darrell in typically strong voice, although they lack the sparkle of the original recordings.

For collector of vinyl is a good clearinghouse for hundreds of record dealers. I have purchased records through them in the past with quite satisfactory results.