Release Date: Sep 10, 2013
Record label: Entertainment One Music
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Contemporary Singer/Songwriter
This record really surprised me. Going into my first listen of the album, I was relatively unfamiliar with Jimmy Webb the performer. Webb’s biggest songs are etched into my own personal nostalgia, and the versions I love are the ones that littered the airwaves when their interpreters took them to the top of the pop charts way back when. He’s responsible for “Wichita Lineman”, “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”, “The Worst That Could Happen”, “MacArthur Park” ...
For well over four decades, Jimmy Webb's songs have helped shape the American musical landscape. And "landscape" is the operative term. A native of Oklahoma, Webb imbues his songs with a cinematic expansiveness and a musical sophistication that smooths the edges of his rootsy sources. They sometimes evoke specific places – "Wichita Lineman," "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" – but more often Webb's songs summon an internal realm of the imagination.
Jimmy Webb almost single-handedly invented artful Americana with songs like "Wichita Lineman," "Galveston," and "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" (in retrospect, the so-called "towns" series), all AM radio hits for Glen Campbell in the late 1960s, and when Webb is at his best as a songwriter, his compositions perfectly capture the large spaces, deep isolation, desperate hopes, and quiet yearning of life in modern America, all done with grace and dignity. Although he has a serviceable voice, Webb's professional career has been as a songwriter, and while his own performances are usually intimate and affecting, he's generally relied on other singers to bring the best out in his songs. Working with producer Fred Molin in Nashville, surrounded by some of Nashville's best session players, and further aided by a host of famous guest singers, Webb released an album of duets, Just Across the River, in 2010, and this set again finds him working with Molin and those Nashville session players, and again aided by an illustrious list of guest singers, including, this time around, Lyle Lovett, Carly Simon, Keith Urban, David Crosby, and Art Garfunkel.
After returning to "MacArthur Park" earlier this year, Jimmy Webb returns to record stores with a new album featuring some high-profile duets. Many of these songs have become part of the fabric of popular music of the late 20th century through the original versions by artists such as Richard Harris (“MacArthur Park”), Joe Cocker (“The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress”), Linda Ronstadt (“Adios,” “Shattered”) and Glen Campbell (“Where’s the Playground, Susie,” “Honey Come Back”). This is a modal window.
Despite a handful of late ‘60s and early ‘70s albums that proved his mettle as both a singer and a songwriter, Jimmy Webb’s material was always best served when sung by others, whether it was Glen Campbell, Art Garfunkel, The Fifth Dimension, Richard Harris or any of the dozens of other artists who parlayed his material into career catapulting hits. So it’s no surprise really that Webb opts to repeat that formula by drafting another all star-roster to reinterpret his catalog. The better known songs are, for the most part, comparable to the original renditions, particularly when it comes to Keith Urban’s emotive take on “Where’s the Playground, Susie” and Joe Cocker’s vulnerable read of “The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress.