Saturday, 13 June 2015

"Original Album Series" by JIMMY WEBB (2015 Rhino/Warners Music Group 5CD Mini Box Set) - A Review by Mark Barry...




"...Words And Music..."

Now here's a genuinely cool addition to this ever-expanding series - five albums from the mighty pen of JIMMY WEBB in his Seventies prime. They're based on the 2006 and 2008 Collector's Choice Music CD masters and the audio is excellent throughout - especially on the highly polished Productions given to "Land's End" and "El Mirage". And at roughly two quid a disc - there's an awful lot of sublime music on offer here that you've probably not heard - and should. Here are the Wichita Lineman details...

UK released Monday 27 April 2015 (May 2015 in the USA) - "Original Album Series" by JIMMY WEBB on Rhino/Warner Music Group 0081227955878 (Barcode is the same number) is a 5CD Mini Box Set with 5" Card Repro Sleeves and breaks down as follows:

Disc 1 (43:25 minutes):
1. Sleepin' In The Daytime
2. P. F. Sloan
3. Love Song
4. Careless Weed
5. Psalm One-Five-O
6. Music For An Unmade Movie (In Three Parts) [i] Songseller [Side 2]
7. Music For An Unmade Movie (In Three Parts) [ii] Dorothy Chandler Blues
8. Music For An Unmade Movie (In Three Parts) [iii] Jerusalem
9. Three Songs: (Let It Be Me, Never My Love, I Wanna Be Free)
10. Once Before I Die
Tracks 1 to 10 are his second LP "Words And Music". Produced by Webb and credited to Jimmy L. Webb - it was released February 1970 in the USA on Reprise RS 6421 and January 1971 in the UK on Reprise RSLP 6421 (reissued in 1971 on Reprise K 44101). All tracks are originals except 9 which is a three-part cover versions medley - "Let It Be Me" by The Everly Brothers, "Never My Love" by The Association and "I Wanna Be Free" by The Monkees. His sister Susan Webb does uncredited duet vocals on 9 and 10. The 2006 Collector's Choice Music master is used for this CD.

Disc 2 (39:12 minutes):
1. Met Her On A Plane
2. All Night Show
3. All My Love's Laughter
4. Highpockets
5. Marionette
6. Laspitch [Side 2]
7. One Lady
8. If Ships Were Made To Sell
9. Pocketful Of Keys
10. See You Then
Tracks 1 to 10 are his 3rd LP "And So: On" - released August 1971 in the USA on Reprise RS 6448 and in the UK on Reprise K 44134. Produced by Jimmy Webb - all songs are JW originals. His sister Susan Webb (credited as The Good Sisters) provides backing vocals on "All My Love's Laughter", "Highpockets" and "Laspitch". The 2006 Collector's Choice Music CD master is used for this CD.

Disc 3 (38:51 minutes):
1. Galveston
2. Campo De Encine
3. Love Hurts
4. Simile
5. Hurt Me Well
6. Once In The Morning [Side 2]
7. Catharsis
8. Song Seller
9. When Can Brown Begin
10. Piano
Tracks 1 to 10 are his 4th album "Letters" - released September 1972 in the USA on Reprise MS 2055 and in the UK on Reprise K 44173. Produced by Larry Marks - all songs are Webb originals except "Love Hurts" by Boudleaux Bryant - a hit for The Everly Brothers and Roy Orbison. Susan Webb sings Backing Vocals on "Once In The Morning" and "When Can Brown Begin" - JONI MITCHELL sings Backing Vocals on "Simile". The 2006 Collector's Choice Music master is used for this CD.

Disc 4 (42:44 minutes):
1. Ocean In His Eyes
2. Feet In The Sunshine
3. Cloudman
4. Lady Fits Her Blue Jeans
5. Just This One Time
6. Crying In My Sleep [Side 2]
7. It's A Sin
8. Alyce Blue Gown
9. Land's End/Asleep On The Wind
Tracks 1 to 9 are his 5th album "Land's End" - released April 1974 in the USA on Asylum SD 5070 and June 1974 in the UK on Asylum SYL 9014. The 2008 Collector's Choice Music master is used for this CD.

Disc 5 (39:20 minutes):
1. The Highwayman
2. If You See Me Getting Smaller I'm Leaving
3. Mixed-Up Guy
4. Christiaan No
5. Moment In A Shadow
6. Sugarbird
7. Where The Universes Are [Side 2]
8. P. F. Sloan
9. Dance To The Radio
10. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress
11. Skylark (A Meditation)
Tracks 1 to 11 are his 6th album "El Mirage" - released May 1977 in the USA on Atlantic SD 18218 and in the UK on Atlantic K 50370. The album was Produced, Arranged and Conducted by GEORGE MARTIN (of Beatles fame) and all songs are written by Jimmy Webb except "Skylark (A Meditation)" which is a co-write with Paul Skylar and "Dance To The Radio" which is written by long-time guitarist in his band - Fred Tackett. The album also features a large number of famous guests including Lowell George of Little Feat on Slide Guitar, Kenny Loggins, Billy Davis and George Hawkins on Vocals, Herb Pedersen on Banjo, Harvey Mason on Percussion, Dean Parks and Fred Tackett on Guitars, David Paich of Toto on Keyboards, Larry Knechtel on Bass and finally Clydie King, Shirley Matthews and Susan Webb on Backing Vocals. The 2006 Collector's Choice Music master is used for this CD.

As is mostly the norm with this series - none of these discs have any extras and are straightforward transfers of the original vinyl LPs (with repro artwork front and rear). Each CD label lists the tracks along with Writer and Producer credits - a good idea because the 5" Card Repro Sleeves (although they look nice) are hard if not impossible to read.

His first album proper was 1968's "Jim Webb Sings Jim Webb" on Epic in the USA and CBS in the UK - which is outside the remit of this 5CD set. His 2nd platter "Words And Music" from 1970 more than makes up for the debut's absence and is a genuine lost classic from that much-loved decade. I'm also surprised at how good this CD sounds given the records notorious 'fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants' production values it originally got. "Sleepin' In The Daytime" is incredibly clear - all the instruments warm and present - especially the rhythm section (most instruments played by Fred Tackett). What follows next is the album's most famous song. "P.F. Sloan" is about the career trials and tribulations of Californian songwriter "P.F. Sloan" (real name Philip Schlein) - author of Barry McGuire's searing anti-war song "Eve Of Destruction" (produced by Lou Adler) - a huge hit in 1965. Sloan was a songsmith to an array of artists like The Mamas and The Papas, Johnny Rivers and The Grass Roots but famously never received the recognition he deserved. In fact Webb's song became much covered in itself (The Association in 1971 to Rumer in 2012).

What you then catch is the album's other secret weapon - the harmonizing vocals of his sister Susan Webb who does gorgeous vocal work on "P.F. Sloan", the beautiful "Love Song" (one the album's undeniable masterpieces) and "Careless Weed". I could live without the God-squad `praise him' righteousness of "Psalm One-Five-O" which Reprise actually released as a 7" single in the UK in 1971 with "P.F. Sloan" on A. Side two of the album opens with a three-parter called "Music For An Unmade Movie" with "Jerusalem" (part iii) being my favourite part. There then comes a stunning re-working of three cover versions where Webb weaves the melodies of The Everly Brothers, The Association and The Monkees into one whole. With Susan's matching vocals - his runs the three songs into a new arrangement that perfectly compliments the warmth of the originals - it's pigging genius.

After the musical high of "Words And Music" - I must admit I found 1971's "And So: On" a bit of a disappointment. It starts out well enough with the strings and melody of "Met Her On A Plane" but not only were some of the songs weaker - but his strained vocals on the fuzzed guitar rawk of "Highpockets" and "Laspitch" only makes them sound more cringeworthy. It's not all bad though. The album ends on three softer piano tunes of which "One Lady" feels like it has that melody-magic - as does "See You Then". The audio is very good throughout - hardly outstanding - but more than acceptable.

Far better is the fan fave "Letters" LP where he begins proceedings with his own version of the huge hit he gave Glen Campbell - "Galveston". Its opening acoustic-strums sound beautiful and his voice perfectly pitched. In fact I'm reminded of album I love called Smith Perkins Smith on Island Records in 1972 by Smith Perkins Smith. It was issued in the UK and the States and sounds like an English version of CSNY with Jimmy Webb as the lead vocalist (isn't yet on CD unfortunately). As this truly sweet remaster of "Galveston" plays through your speakers - the record already begins to feel like a genuine lost classic. Things continue beautifully with the soaring Mexican Waltz melody of "Campo De Encino" and you can so hear the melodiousness of Big Star in the Seventies running right through to the Jayhawks in the Nineties (gorgeous audio too). The lone cover is "Love Hurts" written by Bordeleaux Bryant and made famous of course by The Everly Brothers and Roy Orbison in the early Sixties. Some hate it but I like the string arrangements and it lines up "Simile" - one of the album's masterpieces where none other than JONI MITCHELL puts in a rare Backing Vocals appearance. Playing a piano blinder - "Simile" sounds like a "Blue" outtake sung by Webb. True - Joni's contribution may be slight but it's beautifully done and so complimentary (the song is a highlight for me on the album). "Hurt Me Well" has superlative string arrangements. "Song Seller" is an amped-up re-recording of a tune that turned up on "Words And Music" in 1970 - far better is "When Can Brown Begin" which once again benefits from the backing vocals of his sister Susan Webb (she's on "Once In The Morning" too). It finishes on "Piano" - peaceful and lovely - an ending-of-the-day tune.

Production values lift off into the stratosphere with 1974's "Land's End" as Webb parted company with Reprise and went with Geffen's Asylum Records. The remaster on "Ocean In His Eyes" is superb while the echoed keyboard pings and high-strung guitars of "Cloudman" sound glorious. "Lady Fits Her Blue Jeans" is more of the same sounding not unlike David Gates or Bread. It ends on the epic nine-minutes of "Land's End/Asleep On The Wind" which sneaks in with ominous strings like some tense thriller movie and goes on like that until a song emerges about half way through. It's ambitious stuff and features huge string/choral arrangements that would impress Ennio Morricone.

Everyone and his brother came to Webb for 1977's "El Mirage" and yet much of the album left me cold. Stuff like "Sugarbird" is schlock and his re-recording of "P.F. Sloan" is good but kind of inexplicable. "The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress" is a pretty song with lovely arrangements from George Martin - but the record as a whole felt more like polish than soul (I found myself going back to "Words And Music", "Letters" and "Land's End" instead).

Terry Reid, Brinsley Schwarz and Jimmy Webb are all new 27 April 2015 additions in this "Original Album Series" - and what winners all three are. But you can't help thinking there's something just a little bit special about this entry in that increasingly brill reissue program. Jimmy Layne Webb was one of the first tunesmiths inducted into the Songwriters Hall Of Fame and has received Lifetime Achievement awards from the America's prestigious National Academy Of Songwriters. Buy this cheap-as-chips gift to your stereogram and find out why...

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