Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#697 in the Series) is Jimmy Webb, Just Across the River
If you stopped right now and wrote down your five favorite songs the odds are that a Jimmy Webb song would be among them. The list might include “Wichita Lineman”, “By the Time I get to Phoenix”, or even “Galveston”. Whichever one is chosen the songs of Jimmy Webb wrap around us like a warm snuggy and have been the soundtrack of our lives for many of us.
The list of artists that have covered his songs range from Jackson Browne to Dionne Warwick, and of course his own personal muse (or is it the other way around?), the Rhinestone Cowboy and former Beach Boy himself, the great Glen Campbell.
Released in 2010, Just Across the River was the brainchild of partner-in-crime, producer and long -time collaborator Fred Molin, and was a project that started out as a sort of tribute album to the prolific songwriter. After some not-so-subtle cajoling, arm twisting, and outright begging Webb himself was talked into appearing on the record. The resulting semi-masterpiece turned into sort of a duets affair with some of the most well-known artists in the world participating, after all who in their right mind would turn down the great Jimmy Webb? Jimmy does take solo turns on three of his lesser known works including “Cowboy Hall of Fame”, and “It Won’t Bring Her Back”. Webb is in surprisingly fine voice on these re-recordings and “It Won’t Bring Her Back” is flat out gorgeous.
As far as the pairings go, they may seem a bit odd at first blush but give them a chance to wash over your auditory appendages and I think you will find the somewhat scaled back and more personal sounding renditions of these classic songs quite refreshing. In celebrating the difference, the tracks have a change in tempo here, some strings added there in just the right combination to appeal to the Webb purists as well as well as those that might be Jimmy Webb virgins.
The songs we all know and love are handled with exquisite care. “Wichita Lineman” features appearances by Billy Joel along with super multi-instrumentalist Jerry Douglas. The song is bordering on jaw dropping especially the way the two voices meld together in one of the best vocal turns I have ever heard from Mr. Joel. My personal favorite J.W. song, “P.F. Sloane” is crafted beautifully with the help of another one of my favorites, Jackson Browne.
It is back to the basics with an endearingly subtle version of “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” featuring Glen Campbell. Here the vocals seem to float away like two butterflies in the wind, with the results even more poignant since this is likely one of the last recordings of this song by Campbell along with the fact that this is a duet with Jimmy makes this song goose bump inspiring.
“Galveston” is somewhat of a disappointment here as Lucinda Williams turns the subtle levers down a bit too much when this could have been a real scorcher and album centerpiece with the volume and tempo turned up a bit.
Guest turns by Michael McDonald with “Where Worlds End as well as Mark Knopfler on “The Highwayman”, a song I had forgotten he had written, are definitely fantastic additions and add to the star power in an already star-studded solar system, and Knopfler’s vocal style is absolutely perfect for the song that was chosen for him.
For me, the best song on this album is with Willie Nelson on “If You See Me Getting Smaller”. The song is “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” perfect, and Willie is well, Willie. I was not overly familiar with this song but I am now and it will be embedded in my head and heart for a long time.
The icing on the proverbial cake here is “I Was Too Busy Loving You” with J.D. Souther and the fittingly placed closer “All I Know” with the beautiful and mega-talented Linda Ronstadt, another sweet honey perfect vocal by the original cosmic cowgirl.
This album for me is much more than a trip down memory lane. It emphasizes the fact that great artists, great musicians, and great songwriters can come together and recreate musical sculptures that produce a piece of art that adds to the legacy, and brings more ears to the Jimmy Web table, and this is a very good thing.
I only have one question. Where is MacArthur Park?
- “Oklahoma Nights” (featuring Vince Gill) 3:24
- “Wichita Lineman” (featuring Billy Joel) 4:15
- “If You See Me Getting Smaller” (featuring Willie Nelson) 4:21
- “Galveston” (featuring Lucinda Williams) 3:57
- “P.F. Sloan” (featuring Jackson Browne) 4:29
- “By the Time I Get To Phoenix” (featuring Glen Campbell) 4:05
- “Cowboy Hall of Fame” 3:11
- “Where Words End” (featuring Michael McDonald) 4:14
- “Highwayman” (featuring Mark Knopfler) 4:17
- “I Was Too Busy Loving You” (featuring J. D. Souther) 4:09
- “It Won’t Bring Her Back” 3:32
- “Do What You Gotta Do” 4:23
- “All I Know” (featuring Linda Ronstadt) 4:41
- Jimmy Webb – composer, lyricist, piano, liner notes
- Eddie Bayers – drums
- Glen Campbell – guest appearance
- Jackson Browne – guest appearance
- Pat Buchanan – electric guitar
- Jerry Douglas – dobro, guest appearance
- Stuart Duncan – fiddle, mandolin
- Paul Franklin – dobro, steel Guitar
- Vince Gill – guest appearance
- John Hobbs – organ, piano, wurlitzer
- Jim Hoke – accordion, steel guitar, penny whistle, jaw harp
- Billy Joel – guest appearance
- Mark Knopfler – electric guitar, guest appearance
- Matthew McCauley – guest appearance
- Fred Mollin – synthesizer, harmonica, percussion, electric guitar, background vocals, guest appearance
- Greg Morrow – drums
- Willie Nelson – guest appearance
- Larry Paxton – bass
- Linda Ronstadt – guest appearance
- J. D. Souther – guest appearance
- John Willis – acoustic guitar, banjo, electric guitar
- Russell Terrell – background vocals, guest appearance
- Bryan Sutton – acoustic guitar, banjo, mandolin
- Tania Hancheroff – background vocals, guest appearance
- Jeff Taylor – accordion
- Johnny A – electric guitar, guest appearance
- Jaime Babbitt – background vocals, guest appearance
- Troy Johnson – background vocals, guest appearance
- Michael McDonald – guest appearance