Otway & Barrett

John Otway & Wild Willy Barrett

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Originally self-released on their own Extracked label (after the duo was dropped by Track itself), John Otway and Wild Willy Barrett's 1976 debut album represents the purest of the pair's recordings, a selection of songs that represented every facet of their partnership, as opposed to the madcap antics that became their public persona. Featuring recordings that dated as far back as a 1971 dalliance with producer Pete Townshend, and songs that were even older, the overall mood of the album dances on a peculiar precipice somewhere between folk and country, pop and pub rock -- a fusion that had seen the partnership develop a fabulously rabid live following, at the same time as keeping the record-buying public firmly at arm's length. All six songs on the vinyl's first side had appeared on 45 in one form or another ("Gypsy" was a re-recording) without so much as bothering the chart; from the moment they were joined on the racks by an alternate take of side two's opening, "Really Free," however, Otway & Barrett's future reputation was assured. The patchwork assembly does not harm the album in the slightest. Four Townshend productions blend effortlessly in alongside Barron Anthony's handling of the anthemic "Racing Cars," while Barrett's production of the remainder proves that he learned much from past experiences. The showstopping "Cheryl's Going Home," Otway's idiosyncratic butchering of a song he found on a Bob Lind B-side, is a master class in special effects, while the closing ballads, "Trying Times" and "Geneve," have a spectral beauty that wraps around Otway's voice like a glove. Certainly the singer's subsequent attempts at "Geneve," recasting it with both full orchestra and lone piano, cannot come close to the crystalline fragility of the original. The decades since John Otway & Wild Willy Barrett have seen both players keep up a steady barrage of new releases, individually and collectively, and all have their moments of sublime glory. Only their debut, however, maintains that level from beginning to end -- maintains and, in places ("Racing Cars," "Cheryl," "Really Free"), even surpasses it. People simply don't make debut albums like this any longer.

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