JD Souther
   
If The World Was You
   
   

Release Date: October 14, 2008
Produced by: Various
Format: CD/LP

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02/27/2009
Mark Squirek


 

What a mood he has created. What stories he has to tell. JD Souther went into the studio with a band that is a bit removed from his safety net of acoustic guitars, vocals with echo and delay and harmonies to create one of his most effective works ever. Surrounding himself with a small club, jazz-flavored ensemble of horns and piano with bass and drums he moves the lush, over-produced sound of seventies rock into the twilight of a day.

On his first release in 25 years Souther is respectful of his past, but he knows it is gone. As songwriter he has never been better, consistently challenging the listener with lyrics that hold possible multiple meanings and arrangements that support but never detract from what he is singing. The essence of where he comes from (Texas, his love of Roy Orbison, his work with Glen Frey and the Eagles, his work with Linda Ronstadt) is left intact at the start but over the stretch of the release he moves into the life that he inhabits today. I’ll Be Here at Closing Time opens with a small touch of horns that recalls early Randy Newman. Within seconds Souther takes us into a world where the essence of his earlier work (and by extension his close friends the Eagles) are stripped of their gloss, stacked harmonies and deliberate studio craft.

With his own warm and incredibly expressive voice front and center he quietly shows us the distance between him and his gazillion-selling cousins in a single heartbeat. An acoustic guitar may drive the song, but the piano, trumpet and the brushes on drums create a feeling of quiet urgency that add to the seduction of both the woman he is addressing as well as the listener. This is the new kid in town only it is thirty years later. A hopeless romantic. Here he goes again.

After luring us in with the something close to the familiar, Souther starts to branch out. In House of Pride the drums kick it off and suddenly there is a nervous sense of energy to what he is saying. This is in marked contrast to the familiar musical comfort we found in I’ll Be Here at Closing Time.  Bela Fleck adds a little banjo to the mix and it sounds like we are in the middle of an argument. Only your not sure if the singer is arguing with a lover or himself. Throughout a series observation and than doubting statements (“Where do we go from here? What comes after you win? Didn’t we used to get something for it?”)  the singer needs to leave and somehow, even though you are unsure of who he is talking to, you understand why he needs to leave. In the hands of another singer the song would sound like a self-pitying lament. In Souther’s voice the story becomes a question on why we do anything at all only to find that, in the end, we have to leave.

As heartbroken as he is in One More Night (Killing Spree)  or as lonely as he is in In My Arms Tonight, Souther still has hope for love. In Rain he wishes for it. During the chorus “Maybe it will rain…Love” he holds the note between “Rain and Love” just long enough to pull us deep into his wish for love. Supported by an arrangement that seems to echo the Aja-era efforts of Steely Dan with a touch of Spain, it is a perfect moment on a near-perfect release. The backing vocals by Maravalla (Marie Borderon, Sylvia Elena Garcia and Marisol LaBoy with solo by Sylvia Elena) are sung in Spanish and a perfect counterpoint that matches the longing in Souther’s voice.

He follows the idea of Rain as he opens A Chorus of Your Own with the question “Why plant seeds if you don’t like rain? Why fall in love if you can’t stand pain?”. The song builds on this idea as the trumpet and piano and bass build a night sky of doubt around Souther.

The CD starts out raining in LA and than travels through small clubs, beach houses, bars and possibly even the backwoods until at the end of the evening when it shows up on your couch as your best friend. A best friend who drunkenly reveals the secret of life to you. Only you both know that in the morning neither of you will remember it. Clocking in at over 12 minutes, The Secret Handshake of Fate shares more with the experimentation and slight ennui (least needed word of the review!) that Paul Simon has addressed in his last two release than it does Glen Frey or Jackson Browne. After declaring “I’d sleep upside down for a new view of heaven. And dream both ends of the night” he closes the song (and the CD) on a note of hope “..I just know we’ll be all right”.

"While he his seldom mentioned as a songwriter that belongs in the same world as Simon, Newman or Warren Zevon, Souther is, on this release, in their neighborhood. Especially in his decision to work outside of his regular comfort zone.  But you cannot take his songwriting skill for granted. The man is good, real good. The CD is an out of left field  triumph from someone who has been gone too long.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 



 
     
     
     

 

 

   
 
     

 

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