Tom T. Hall

Homecoming

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Two years after its release, the low-budget zombie film Night of the Living Dead had become something of a sensation on the midnight cinema circuit. By then it was 1970, and Tom T. Hall's new Homecoming album might have been seen by some demented cynics as an effort to cash in on the success of the film. Hall, wearing a white trenchcoat and dark suit, is posed on the front cover standing in what seems to be a graveyard. On both this and a similar back-cover photo he looks sallow and demented -- not quite as bad as the first zombie that attacks in Night of the Living Dead, but getting there. In terms of a country & western artist, Hall's appearance couldn't have seemed more out of place if he had dressed up as a member of the undead. Once a listener examines the album, particularly the title song, then the image of the artist makes sense -- both as a way of presenting Hall and the songs themselves as mainstream country. At the same time, dressing Hall in non-cowboy garb was part of a consciousness quite prevalent in Nashville in the early '70s, too much so for some of the hardcore country crowd.

Hall's songwriting in what is considered one of his classic early collections puts much of the material in this genre to shame, especially that which tries too hard to establish the "redneck connection" or a sense of being at one with ordinary folk. The details in his songs are not the sort concocted by weekend tunesmiths trying to ape the hit parade. Out of these details emerge vivid characters, such as the adulterer whose hands are dirty from fixing his son's bike, thinking all the while of a prostitute. In "A Week in a Country Jail," the main character might not be the galoot who narrates the song but lady justice herself, her scales balancing the horrifying reality of an extended stint in a small-town jail with the plates of hot bologna being brought in by the jailkeeper's wife. "I Miss a Lot of Trains" is one of Hall's best, most simple songs, "Nashville Is a Groovy Little Town" one of his silliest in a catalog that includes ditties such as the yeasty "I Love Beer" and the horrifying "I Love." Few songs written by anyone match the impact of "Homecoming," and in this beautiful song it is Hall himself who is the main character. One of the finest bands of Nashville session players available in this period is assembled here, Jerry Kennedy's mixes something of a thickened stew that might be as close as country ever got to Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound."

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