If the cover of If the World Was You brings to mind a vintage Blue Note LP, it's purely intentional: J.D. Souther recorded this album live in the studio supported by a basic quintet of piano, standup bass, drums, saxophone, and trumpet, colored by Souther's guitar and a cameo from Béla Fleck. It's a stark contrast to the slick SoCal studio gloss of his '70s albums, where much of the pleasure was to hear pros play the tunes of this professional songwriter, but here the music relaxes and breathes, rolling out with a relaxed ease. It's still recognizably the work of Souther -- apart from a few songs with a Latin lilt, a hint of frenzied bop beats, and the epic 12-minute closer "The Secret Handshake of Fate" -- sonically, the songs could have found a home on Black Rose or You're Only Lonely, but Souther's writing is subtly different, too, a bit worldly and weathered, fueled by introspection not craft. Both the writing and the small combo are a deliberate break from Souther's past, so despite the near quarter-century gap between Home by Dawn and If the World Was You, this 2008 album doesn't quite constitute a comeback -- it's more of a revitalization, an album that feels like something that Souther needed to do. This gives If the World Was You a sense of vitality, albeit a relaxed vitality as the album is so warm and intimate, it comes on slow, not strong. Nevertheless, this feels alive in a way that no other Souther album has felt, as he's digging deeper with this songs and is supported by this wonderful quintet who help make If the World Was You a distinct, captivating fusion of country-rock and jazz.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine