Jerry Jeff Walker

It's a Good Night for Singin'/Contrary to Ordinary

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Raven continues its excellent series of Jerry Jeff Walker doubles with two of his best: It's a Good Night for Singin' is as highly regarded as Viva Terlingua, Ridin' High, or Jerry Jeff Walker. Arguably, however, it is more consistent than any of them. Released in 1976, it has the strongest opening side of any record in Walker's career. It includes a stomping cover of Tom Waits' "Lookin' for the Heart of Saturday Night," reinvented as a rock & roll song complete with B-3, Fender Rhodes, and a throbbing bassline -- to date, it is the definitive version. There's also an urbanized honky tonk read of Butch Hancock's "Standin' at the Big Hotel" that rivals Joe Ely's. Walker delivers the Gary P. Nunn/Karen Brooks classic "Couldn't Do Nothin' Right" as one of his saddest ballads, with a world-weary resignation in having to depart a lover who always expected more than was possible to give. That first side closes with Lee Clayton's finest love song, "Won't You Give Me One More Chance," Bob Livingstone's "Head Full of Nothin'," and a stirring, good-time take on Billy Joe Shaver's "Old Five and Dimers Like Me." There is only one original on the set, a redo of the immortal "Stoney." Side two boasts a couple of Keith Sykes' tunes, including "Someday I'll Get Out of These Bars," Billy C. Farlow's "Leroy," and Livingstone's title track. What is most notable on this set is what a brilliant interpretive singer Walker is, and despite the excellent production values, how deceptively loose and organic it all feels. 1978's Contrary to Ordinary was Walker's last record for MCA and the beginning of a shift in his music that would draw him away from the songwriting and production styles that created the magical run of albums from 1970 to 1977. This set marks the place where his life-long love of Caribbean sounds makes itself plainly heard in opener "Tryin' to Hold the Wind Up with a Sail," with its faux-calypso rhythms and synthed steel-drum sounds. Clayton's "Saturday Night Special" has Walker working with a fretless bass player, a full horn section, and a funky backbeat. The deep influence of Jerry Lee Lewis is heard on the rockin' boogie-woogie of Hancock's "Suckin' a Big Bottle of Gin." And his reading of Rodney Crowell's "Til I Gain Control Again" is one of the finest versions ever cut. Walker's protagonist is totally believable as he barely hangs on to life by a thread. The title cut is yet another Walker anthem and it comes off without artifice. This double disc features characteristically fine remastering, original album liners, and a great reminiscence by Livingstone. It's a necessity for fans and an excellent intro for fans of the outlaw, and later "red dirt" movements that came from Texas.

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