As wild as his career has been, at this stage -- after almost a decade of playing it so safe that his music has sounded like an empty golf course -- Jerry Jeff Walker has guts. No, that's not a cheap shot. Willie and Waylon may have gotten most of the credit, but Walker was the man who really brought country music, particularly Texas country music, to the rock generation. His 1970s records were nothing less than revelatory and had the ability to bring a lot of disparate people together. In the 1980s, he lost his way and made a caricature of himself; in the 1990s, at least in the early to middle part, he put out a series of records that showed the old magic in places. Here, Walker does the unthinkable, the most radical thing he's ever done, and comes up with an album that sounds more like a Jerry Jeff album than anything since 1980. For Jerry Jeff Jazz, the man and his small band -- Mitch Watkins and Tommy Nash on guitars, Steve Meador on drums, bassist Spencer Starnes, and Walker on vocals only -- took two days to record 14 classic American jazz standards and pop songs. How classic? Gershwin's "How Long Has This Been Going On?" and "But Not for Me," Sammy Cahn's "I Fall in Love Too Easily" and "Time After Time," Rodgers & Hart's "My Funny Valentine," the Adair/Dennis gem "Everything Happens to Me," and Hilliard/Mann's "In the Wee Small Hours," among others. Chet Baker, Sinatra, Tony Bennett, even Dino Martin are heavy influences here. Vocally, Walker doesn't measure up, but as a stylist he's singular. In other words, like all of the aforementioned singers, Walker makes these songs his own, even when he's flat occasionally and his voice quavers in the upper registers -- because Walker's now almost a bass rather than baritone vocalist after a lifetime in honky tonks -- or he rolls through the phrasing. Walker manages to imbue these fine tunes with a sense of romance, good-time sensibility, and only a modicum of sentiment. He sings them naturally and simply has a fine time, which makes the entire album an absolute pleasure to listen to. The band swings, floats, and punches through the mix wherever necessary and helps him out when the vocal is particularly tough. While purists will no doubt savage such a labor of love and delight, everybody else -- those who've loved Walker's work off and on over the decades and those who love to hear a unique stylist sing a good song -- will find Jerry Jeff Jazz to be its own swing of delight.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek