Jerry Jeff

Jerry Jeff Walker

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Jerry Jeff Review

by Thom Jurek

The close of the 1970s saw Jerry Jeff Walker quickly approaching the second major crossroads in his career. The first happened when he moved to Texas and left behind his shuffling folk music ways. The second occurred when he was with Elektra, on this album in particular -- where he retains his good-time cowboy songwriter persona on recording -- Jerry Jeff is the final record Walker made before moving to Rykodisc in the late '80s. Self-produced, as is its predecessor, Too Old to Change, Walker was moving in directions where enormous sounds and big-time rock & roll crescendos as well as a steady stream of jazz influences were entering his work, and he was writing less and less. Here, the first two tracks are startling in their contrast, as is the first half of the album to the second. The opener, "Eastern Avenue River Railway Blues," begins with the familiar, slow, meandering good-time Walker telling a story in song in his inimitable fashion. That is dressed in overlaid piano tracks and jazz scatting and still retains its essential Walker flavor. Lee Clayton's "Lone Wolf" is given a Neil Young and Crazy Horse treatment with grungy guitars screaming and huge drums popping all over the mix. Contrast this with the bluesy "Bad News," with its New Orleans R&B-cum-honky tonk country flavor, full of horns and upright piano and raucous guitars, and you have something of an anomaly for Walker. This continues through "Boogie Mama," which sounds like Bob Seger in Texas, and the easy Dixieland swing of "I'm Not Strange," a big Walker singalong with electric guitars backing a brass section. And then comes the shift where Walker's growing fascination with the Caribbean becomes entrenched in his sound on "Good Lovin' Grace." But on Guy Clark's "Comfort and Crazy" and "Follow," Walker leans into a love song in a way that only he can, despite the rhythmic invention. They are tender, full of his rich bass voice, and sweet in the same way an old sweater is. The album ends with Rodney Crowell's classic ballad "By the Banks of the Old Bandera," a song that may not have been written for Walker, but after recording it, no one else should be allowed to. In all, Jerry Jeff is a far better album than it seemed to be in its day. It was simply ahead of its time, and those in the music press who criticized it just didn't quite know what listeners were hearing. Both Too Old to Change and this one are Walker classics that have stood the test of time.

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