Another Log on the Fire: Hillbilly Central #2, the second of Bear Family's reissues of Tompall Glaser's MGM/Polydor recordings, pairs 1974's Tompall Glaser Sings the Songs of Shel Silverstein and 1975's The Great Tompall and His Outlaw Band, adding the bonus tracks of "Loving You Again" and "T for Texas." The latter song was one of two songs Glaser had on the era-defining 1976 compilation Wanted! The Outlaws, the album that propelled Tompall to cult semi-stardom and gave him two Country Top 40 hits, which amounts to the peak of his solo stardom, even if he did scale slightly higher with a reunited Glaser Brothers a few years later, largely due to the groundwork he laid here. This was the peak of his commercial success and in some ways his creative peak, too. At the very least, these two records represent Tompall Glaser in full flight, settling into his home turf at Hillbilly Central -- the studio he inherited and renamed after the Glaser Brothers split, supported by a sympathetic group of buddies, cutting songs that fit his broken-in, worn-down voice. First up was Sings the Songs of Shel Silverstein which, by its very nature, didn't dig as deep as Charlie. Tompall wound up picking Silverstein songs that were jokes -- sometimes wry, often dirty -- or danced around emotions instead of baring them. Glaser's weathered voice leant the ballads some considerable weight -- the slow-rolling "Grab a Hold" and "Roll On," the sticky sentimentality of "Echoes," and the stately sadness of "Oleander" all gain stature in Tompall's hands. These round out an album that's essentially a party record, anchored by the cheerfully offensive "Put Another Log on the Fire," the carnivalesque "Musical Chairs," the sleepy "Old New Orleans Custom," and the frankly irritating singalong "Country Gospel Good Book Rock 'n' Roll." These are Silverstein at his best and his worst, and if other singers captured his humor better -- Bobby Bare and Dr. Hook spring to mind -- Glaser at least proved himself to be one of his best interpreters here.
The Great Tompall and His Outlaw Band has a bit of a similar party vibe as Songs of Shel Silverstein but it's a much looser party and probably a bit more fun, too. It's no mistake that Glaser's band gets a co-billing here: the focus isn't on a songwriter, it's on the music, which includes a lot of country standards given funky contemporary outlaw treatments. The album-opening "The Wild Side of Life" makes a bridge back to the spare, dusty original, but by the time the loose-limbed shuffle kicks on Fred Rose's "We Live in Two Different Worlds," let alone the wild groove they lay down on Tommy Duncan's "Time Changes Everything," it's clear this is a richer, fuller album than Shel Silverstein. Make no mistake, Silverstein still has a significant presence here -- as Glaser cuts the hazy, lazy "When It Goes, It's Gone Girl," trips through "Broken Down Mama" (first aired on the U.K. LP Take the Singer with the Song), and turns "If I'd Only Come and Gone" into a lament that stretches far beyond its smutty title -- but mixed in are the old standards, a good Glaser original in "I Can't Remember," a terrific take on Waylon and Willie's "Good Hearted Woman," Jack Clement's cinematic "West Canterbury Subdivision Blues" (whose wide vistas recall singles Tompall cut with his brothers in the '60s), and the excellent Lee J. Fry tune "The Hunger," which Waylon later turned into a hit. All this makes for, in pure musical terms, the richest album Tompall cut for MGM, rivaling Charlie as the finest album Glaser made in his mid-'70s peak.