Friday, February 12, 2016

Album review of JD Souther, longtime songwriting partner of Glenn Frey, The Eagles

photo by Linda Ronstadt
On Monday night, the Grammy Awards broadcast will include an all-star tribute to Glenn Frey, who recently passed away.

JD Souther was among The Eagles co-founder and the band's key songwriting partners.

He collaborated with them on such hits as “Best of My Love,” “New Kid in Town” and “Heartache Tonight,” not to mention deep album cuts like "Victim of Love," "James Dean," "Doolin Dalton" and "You Never Cry Like a Lover."

Like Frey, Souther was born in Detroit. The pair made a musical bond, moved to LA, rented a house together and released a self-titled LP under the name Longbranch/Pennywhistle in 1969. Eventually, Souther would work on his own project, which also sported an eponymous title. It came out in 1972 on Asylum Records.

Last month, Omnivore Records reissued John David Souther in a great new version with 7 previously unreleased bonus tracks (6 demos, 1 alternate take). Now expanded to just under an hour's running time, the CD casing and booklet have rare photos by Henry Diltz and Linda Ronstadt, memorabilia images and an informative interview with Souther. He recalls growing up in Texas (as did The Eagles' Don Henley), getting an education on country music from Ronstadt in LA, hanging out at the Troubadour club and more.

Souther also says his main goals in making the debut LP was to not use the same session musicians in the studio that everyone else did (drummer Gary Mallaber went on to become an in-demand player for Bruce Springsteen and others) and to sing and tell the stories as simply as possible. Those ambitions come through in fine fashion on this country/rock effort co-produced by Fred Catero (Santana’s Abraxas).

Old pal Frey provides guitar on three tunes. First up is the upbeat, fiddle-laden opener "The Fast One," where Souther sings, "It's no wonder that I've been crying/It's no wonder that I've been blue." Another strong selection is the ballad "Run Like a Thief," boasting supple harmonies (each was covered by Ronstadt and Bonnie Raitt, respectively, during the 1970s). The jaunty "Some People Call It Music" contains more rich singing, while the slinky, bluesy, harmonica-infused groove of "White Wing"  provides a welcome change of pace. 

Elsewhere, there's some subtle nods to spirituality (contemplative piano ballads "It’s the Same," "Jesus in 3/4 Time") and bottleneck guitar work on "Out to Sea" - a memorable song about self-doubt (sample lyrics: "I used to sing in Texas...guess I've come a long way" and "Thoughts of California by the shining sea/We'll bathe in the white foaming water"). 

Eagles fans will be especially interested in rousing highlight "How Long." The band covered it for 2007 multi-platinum comeback album Long Road Out of Eden, landing a Grammy in the process.

As previously mentioned on this blog, two other Souther titles (Black Rose, Home by Dawn) are also available in stores today from the label in expanded form.

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