Jerry Jeff Walker

Hill Country Rain

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After Too Old to Change, Jerry Jeff Walker went into a creative slide -- albums like Cowjazz and Reunion were embarrassing for an artist of his stature -- that existed until he signed with Rykodisc, and even then on Gypsy Songman, and this set has Walker playing some of his older tunes redone with modern production. But on both records, particularly here, Walker is clearly in the midst of a creative renaissance. Hill Country Rain kicks off with a stunning freewheeling anthem in "Rock & Roll My Baby" in which he restates his claim to the outlaw throne. Walker's obsession with fusing his brand of country with his adopted home in the Caribbean drenches "So Bad Last Night," but it works better than anything Jimmy Buffet has written in the same vein for over two decades. The plaintive cover of Steven Fromholz's "Singin' the Dinosaur Blues" blows away the original and could have been written by Walker himself. In any case, Fromholz should never play it again after this. The place of pan pipes feels a bit strange but adds immeasurably. But it's Walker's own songs that ring the truest. Accompanied by the Lost Gonzo Compadres -- Gary P. Nunn is missing, but Lloyd Maines is present -- plainly put, Walker writes his ass off here, from "Time to Stay Home," with its moving account of wisdom gained from a lifetime of being a gypsy songman, to the moving and tender "Last Night I Fell in Love Again" and on into "To the Artist." Walker's decades of war stories have evolved into a bittersweet wisdom. Even the recordings of "Curly and Lil" and the title track are fresh and new, wringing new truths from the old words. This is a record about songs, not about Walker's myth; here is a place where art and the truth converge, and listeners are lucky to encounter them both in his work once again.

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