While Buck Owens made some of the best straightforward honky tonk records of the 1960s, the man wasn't afraid to expand his boundaries, cutting some great rockabilly sides as Corky Jones in 1957 and recording a fine version of Chuck Berry's "Memphis" in 1965. In 1971, at a time when most country acts were solidly supporting Nixon and the Vietnam War was increasing the divide between youth culture and the older and more conservative audiences who were the backbone of the country & western audience, Owens took a dramatic and unexpected step by cutting an album that musically had more to do with folk-rock than anything else. Featuring tunes by Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, and Donovan along with a handful of like-minded Owens originals, Bridge Over Troubled Water hardly sounds like Buck's attempt to court the hippie audience, but the simple, low-key, and often somber tone of these tunes is a switch from the up-tempo Bakersfield sound of his biggest hits. While lyrically "The Devil Made Me Do That" and "Within My Loving Arms" aren't especially far from his usual material, this album has a contemplative undertow that sets it apart from a typical country session of the day, with Don Rich's bright Telecaster runs most notable in their absence. "San Francisco Town" is a surprisingly sympathetic tale of a hippie down on his luck, while Owens tackles "Love Minus Zero - No Limit" and "Catch the Wind" with both empathy and enthusiasm. And while Buck's version of "I Am a Rock" is hardly the definitive take on the song, in his hands "Homeward Bound" sounds like a classic tale of a lost soul a long way from home -- in other words, just like a good country song. Heard today, Bridge Over Troubled Water sounds like an experiment by Buck Owens in exploring new sides of himself and his music, and it's an experiment that succeeds.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming