After issuing two solid critical successes that went nowhere commercially, Mickey Newbury was more determined than ever to get the idea of his music across to the American public. He was also hellbent on challenging Nashville's stolid, conservative way of recording, producing, marketing and selling music. He failed on both counts but left another stunner of an album along the way. Heaven Help the Child opens with the title track, a wondrously arranged and gorgeously sung three-generational American Odyssey that offers, despite its tragedy, the clearly visible line of hope on a distant yet attainable horizon. Also included here are three definitive interpretations of songs from his very first album, Harlequin Melodies: "Sunshine" "Sweet Memories," and "Good Morning Dear." These songs haven't been re-recorded so much as reinvented from the ground up. Newbury changes pace with an awesome dobro-drenched, country-rock singalong, "Why You Been Gone So Long." "Cortelia Clark," a tale of a young man and an older, blind black musician coming to the train yards in Georgia, is one of Newbury's great achievements as a songwriter. Acoustic guitars and strings woo each other through his mellifluous tenor, and offer a coming of age tale that is both morally instructive and imagistically evocative; only Newbury could tell a story that echoed the blues of the '20s and '30s and the folk songs of the '40s and '50s. The album closes with the Bob Beckham-produced reinvention of "San Francisco Mabel Joy" and it's a punch-in-the-gut way to conclude an album. With Heaven Help the Child, Newbury, for the third time in as many recording sessions, came up with a record that defies categorization or gentrification. And for the third time in a row, he had done the impossible, created a masterpiece, a work of perfection.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek