B.J. Thomas

Billy Joe Thomas

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Billy Joe Thomas, the last of B.J. Thomas’ LPs for Sceptre records, is perhaps the most ambitious of his entire stint at the label. There are no covers of current hits, and the material is all from heavy-hitters: Mark James, John Sebastian, Jimmy Webb, Mann & Weill, Carole King, and Stevie Wonder chief among them. There’s more ambition, as well as a fair amount of pomp and circumstance within the arrangements, and he sees a few of his writers sitting on their respective songs, with Webb playing piano on “A Song for My Brother” and Stevie Wonder blowing harp on “Happier Than the Morning Sun.” All this, along with a production that leans as heavily on progressive trippy rock accents as it does soft, lulling textures, gives the album a heavier vibe than any other B.J. Thomas record: it’s an album designed to make him seem like a singer/songwriter like Elton John. The ambition is admirable even if it doesn’t quite gel: the songs tend to rely on their lyrics, which doesn’t befit such grand arrangements or Thomas’ skills, as he doesn’t dig into the heart of a song, but sells the contours of the melody. But this disconnect is what makes the record interesting -- it may not work, but it has a scope that dwarves Thomas’ other records, and its halting blend of progressive pop and MOR is a period curio worth investigating once.

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