Johnny Rivers

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Johnny Rivers' eighth album offers about as much diversity of music as any of the best of his early LPs, with a difference -- it was the first album where he abandoned the basic guitar-bass-drums arrangement that had characterized his prior albums. His core trio sound was still there, augmented with tasteful horns and understated string orchestra on certain songs, and virtually displaced by some intriguing solo instruments elsewhere. The album's sound was anticipated by the single "Poor Side of Town," which featured a hybrid production, Rivers' band joined by overdubbed strings and chorus. The album opener, "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" (in its very first recording) shows him managing to sound like a full-fledged rocker despite the presence of violins (playing parts that would later be inflated on "MacArthur Park," written by the same composer) and flute. "A Taste of Honey" gets a treatment that manages to intersect Calypso and rock. "California Dreamin'" gets an arrangement that recalls that of the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby," while "Do You Want to Dance" was the template for the Mamas and the Papas' exquisitely harmonized version, cut under the same producer. "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" gets perhaps the most soulful and distinctive treatment in its history, complete with its seldom heard lyrics. And Rivers' performance of "If I Were a Carpenter," against a breezily paced background, is beautifully sung, in a performance that anticipates some of the soulful agony that Steve Marriott brought to the same song in concert with the Small Faces. Even Rivers' pop covers, "Strangers in the Night," "The Shadow of Your Smile," "Softly As I Leave You," and "The Days of Wine and Roses," are successful in showing off his singing in a different vein, and the softer, finer nuances that his voice could express. Produced by Lou Adler, whose reputation as a recording director par excellence rested on records like this, and arranged by Marty Paitch, this was one of the best-sounding rock albums of 1967 and rode the charts longer than any other Johnny Rivers LP. It's essential listening for Rivers fans as well as '60s rock enthusiasts.

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