odd that this album recorded in Nashville by Webb is being promoted as the
great, long-awaited comeback of the late-1960s/early-1970s wunderkind
songwriter of “Up, Up and Away,” “Wichita Lineman,” “MacArthur Park” and “All I
Know” fame. On Just Across the River, he performs selections from his catalog, often in duets with well-known Boomer
Webb – who had become frustrated in the 1970s when his own albums failed to
sell and basically retreated from public view – already made a notable comeback
with 1996’s Ten Easy Pieces, featuring him playing piano, often solo, on a
selection of some of his finest older material.
appearance and solo performance at South by Southwest that year was a
revelation – one of the more notable legacy resurrections of that fest’s
history. He and his music have stayed in the public eye since – Michael
Feinstein’s 2003 Only One Life was an
album of Webb songs, and the two played concerts together in support.
that this and Ten Easy Pieces overlap
on five songs, this isn’t a radical new step in his career. One suspects Webb
hopes the guests – including Vince Gill, Billy Joel, Willie Nelson, Jackson
Browne and Linda Ronstadt – will finally help him sell some albums on his own
in meaningful numbers. Fred Mollin produced this with Webb and backing band
recording tracks in just two days; guest vocals were added.
might sell well, too, although this album loses some of the intimacy of Ten Easy Pieces and flirts with (and
even crosses over into) blanded-out MOR with a few of the choices, especially
Michael McDonald on the new “Where Words End” and a too-familiar, mildly shaky
take on “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” with Glen Campbell. And Joel’s bright,
youthful voice on “Wichita Lineman” sounds like it’s had the aural equivalent
of a cosmetic makeover.
as a singer on his 1970s albums was almost painfully earnest and not very tuneful.
But he’s really learned how to nuance and caress a lyric without pushing too
hard. So the duets are true duets – he’s not just trying to hide behind “real”
sounds quite good sharing “I Was Too Busy Loving You” with J.D. Souther and “P.F.
Sloan” with Jackson Browne – you can hear how he must have really wanted to be
a sensitive “gentleman of the canyon” in the early 1970s, hanging out in the
rustic hills of L.A. and writing romantic hits for the Eagles. (Could someone
please cover Webb’s “P.F. Sloan” and the Replacements’ “Alex Chilton” as a
medley/mash-up?) The Oklahoma-born Webb lets his country-rock roots show on
“Oklahoma Nights” with Vince Gill and “Highwayman” with Mark Knopfler. (Gill
doesn’t add much to “Oklahoma Nights.” One wishes Webb had chosen Arlo Guthrie
– who once did a fine reading of the song – as his partner.)
a Vietnam-era protest song whose melancholy tone was obscured by Campbell’s
upbeat performance on the hit version, does finally get the an interpretation
it deserves courtesy of Lucinda Williams. Initially slowed down and bluesy,
with Williams’ ruggedly soulful, desperation-tinged voice pushing Webb to sing
it out like a confession, it’s like a less-ethereal cousin to “Sweet Old
good as it is, the best song here is Webb’s solo take on one of his earliest
songs, the folk-rock ballad “Do What You Gotta Do.” It’s one of his simplest
lyrically, yet also one of his finest.
“Do What You Gotta Do” STEVEN