Real Gone's 2012 two-fer reissues Jerry Reed's first two albums -- 1967's The Unbelievable Guitar & Voice of Jerry Reed and 1968's Nashville Underground -- on one CD. As the title of the 1967 debut makes plain, Reed's guitar was always central to his persona, so it comes as a slight surprise that there are only a few big showcases for his picking. But what showcases they are! There's "Guitar Man" and "U.S. Male," songs Elvis Presley cherry-picked for his 1968 comeback and they're just as pivotal to Reed's image, containing the core of his funny, stomping Southern wildman persona. Also, the album concludes with "The Claw," the first -- and by many measures best -- of his casual displays of guitar virtuosity. Apart from that, The Unbelievable Guitar & Voice winds up emphasizing the latter part of the equation, with many of its 12 songs following the contours of polished Music City pop in 1967. Not only are there plenty of syrupy strings and harmonies; there are harpsichords and electric pianos, jazzy shuffles and sweet minor-key melodies, all delivered with panache by Reed, who also crafts his commercially minded songs with considerable skill. Nashville Underground goes even further in this direction, with only the riotous "Tupelo Mississippi Flash" coming close to the wild swing that is Reed's trademark. The rest of the record is devoted to highly polished, exquisitely produced country-pop, much of it written by Jerry himself, who is game to croon ballads like "Remembering" or to take a breezy summertime stroll on "A Thing Called Love." Some of this is so delicately layered it borders on baroque AM pop -- "You Wouldn't Know a Good Thing" and "Save Your Dreams" sound like the sunshine pop coming out of the West Coast -- and if that isn't quite what anybody expects from notorious wildman Jerry Reed, it's nevertheless a thoroughly engaging piece of period pop.
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Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine