In 2007, a new song from the Eagles blazed onto the radio airwaves, climbing to a Top 10 AC/Top 25 Country berth on the Billboard charts. But the infectious, breezy "How Long," with its classic Eagles sound, wasn't new at all. The song was written by J.D. Souther and included on his 1972 Asylum Records debut John David Souther. When the Eagles included it on Long Road Out of Eden, the band's first studio album since 1979, it rekindled the creative relationship with Souther, an "honorary Eagle" who co-wrote such classic songs for the band as "Best of My Love," "Heartache Tonight" and "New Kid in Town." Though those credits have attained immortality, they far from tell the whole J.D. Souther story. He also wrote "Faithless Love" and "White Rhythm and Blues" as popularized by his onetime flame Linda Ronstadt, scored hits with his solo "You're Only Lonely" and the James Taylor duet "Her Town, Too," and released seven studio albums between 1972 and 2015. Omnivore Recordings has just kicked off a Souther campaign, announced as of now to include three titles, with John David Souther, expanding the richly melodic slice of SoCal country-rock with seven previously unreleased demos and outtakes.
"You better put on a fast one/If you want me to pull through/You better play another fast one/No matter what you do," Souther implores on the opening track "The Fast One." With its soul-country vocals, twangy yet rocking guitars by Souther, Glenn Frey and Ned Doheny, Gary Mallaber's drums and Gib Guilbeau's prominent fiddle, the ironically upbeat "The Fast One" could only have come out of 1972 and the Laurel Canyon scene. (The fascinating demo offers alternate lyrics, a slower tempo and a darker, bluesier feel.) It sets the tone for the album's tales of broken hearts and ill-fated romances, all incisively crafted by a singer-songwriter with an unusual pedigree. Born in Michigan and raised in Texas, Souther brought to the California scene an upbringing rooted in jazz, standards, classical and opera. His discovery of country music made a major impact on him, but he never lost sight of traditional songcraft. In Scott Schinder's excellent liner notes here, Souther cites the odd couple of Miles Davis and George Jones as influences, both for the "clarity of tone" in their recordings. Unsurprisingly, he and co-producer Fred Catero knew how to capture that clarity and directness on John David Souther.
On his debut, Souther introduced "Run Like a Thief," a rhythmic ballad of infidelity that was later recorded by Bonnie Raitt. This spin on a classic country theme featured his high, beautifully lonesome vocals evoking a dark angel. The lyrical honesty which imbues "Thief" also lends gravitas to other songs here such as the heartbreaking, vulnerable "It's the Same" and the pretty, yearning ballad "Out to Sea," which seems to be at least semi-autobiographical. The latter showcases the distinctive bottleneck sound of Wayne Perkins and the drumming of John Barbata (The Turtles, Jefferson Starship).
Throughout John David Souther, it's hard to ignore a similarity to the Eagles' familiar sound - both in Souther's timbre and the prevailing country-rock musical style. While there is less reliance on harmonies than on the Eagles' records, those that are present are strikingly woven into the fabric of the productions. Witness the soft vocals' lovely shimmer on the barbed yet musically laid-back "Kite Woman" ("She's got you strung out somewhere down the line...") featuring guitars by Souther and Frey. The stripped-down, alternate version included in the bonus material lacks the vocal harmonies.
Despite the SoCal touchstones, the sounds here are diverse, and the artist "cast" his musicians for each song with precision. Bryan Garofalo's bass contributes to the funky and tough feel of "Some People Call It Music," also featuring Souther and Doheny on guitars and Gary Mallaber on drums. David Jackson's churchy piano adds dimension to the ruminative "Jesus in 3/4 Time." The demo has Souther's guitar accompaniment and a stark fiddle for a wholly different, arguably even more gorgeous sound. The bluesy shuffle of "White Wing" is complete with Joel Tepp blowing a mean harp.
The bonus tracks are all happily illuminating, most of which open a window onto the process behind the album's creation. "How Long" still rocks in its spare solo demo version and takes on even more of a country flavor with Souther's drawled lead. The acerbic "One in the Middle" and sad "Silver Blue," both presented in demo form, did not make the final album, though the latter would be included on Black Rose and also recorded by Linda Ronstadt.
Produced by the artist and Cheryl Pawelski, Omnivore's deluxe reissue is attractively packaged in a digipak designed by Greg Allen and includes a 12-page booklet with Scott Schinder's liner notes drawing on fresh quotes from Souther. Michael Graves has subtly remastered all tracks. Of John David Souther, one might ask: Is this Americana? Country-rock? Laurel Canyon pop? Certainly there are all hallmarks here of all of the above, and more. But as usual, great music transcends mere labels. Omnivore's release marks an auspicious beginning to its J.D. Souther campaign which will soon add reissues of Black Rose and Home by Dawn. Both of those albums have distinctive sounds all their own, but the artist's passionate brand of heartfelt, intelligent songwriting began here, on John David Souther.
John David Souther is available at Amazon U.S., Amazon U.K. and Amazon Canada!
Rob Maurer says
The late Glenn Frey's partner in Longbranch Pennywhistle...
Mark I. says
Listened to this one on Apple Music yesterday but didn't see the other two Souther deluxe reissues there.
Matt B. says
Mark, they're not out until February 12.
Those records are the second solo album "Black Rose" and 1984's "Home By Dawn." The only early ouvre album missing is the Columbia record from 1979, "You're Only Lonely." I'm sure there may be a re-issue of that one by Legacy if these sell well enough/get enough press.