Just Across the River

Jimmy Webb

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Just Across the River Review

by Thom Jurek

Fred Molin, a producer and longtime Jimmy Webb collaborator, cajoled the great songwriter to participate in this tribute. Just Across the River features 13 classic Webb tunes performed by the Webb with an all-star band and guest appearances by friends, collaborators, admirers, and fellow recording artists such as Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, Billy Joel, Willie Nelson, Glen Campbell, Michael McDonald, Mark Knopfler, J.D. Souther, Vince Gill, and Lucinda Williams. Webb also performs three songs here unaccompanied by other singers. The band Molin assembled includes a host of Nashville's best: John Hobbs (keyboards), Bryan Sutton and John Willis (on guitars, mandolin, and banjo), Larry Paxton (bass), Greg Morrow and Eddie Bayers (drums), Stuart Duncan (fiddle, mandolin), Jeff Taylor (accordion), Pat Buchanan (electric guitar), and Paul Franklin (pedal steel and dobro). There are instrumental cameos, too, including one by Jerry Douglas, whose dobro adorns "Wichita Lineman." Given Webb's stature, none of this is surprising. What is, however, especially given the gorgeous sound of this set, is that the vasty majority of it was recorded live over two days in a Nashville studio -- vocals were overdubbed. Some of the highlights include "Oklahoma Nights" with Gill's beautiful tenor balancing the harmonies; "The Highwayman," in which Mark Knopfler underscores Webb's vocal with his own, creating a dark, melancholy authenticity; "Wichita Lineman" features Joel, whose empathic feel for the duet is remarkable, and his voice contrasts beautifully with Webb's. Shockingly, Browne's help on "P.F. Sloan" helps to make the song a real tragedy for an era, as well as a for a man, rather than a merely ironic one. Webb's own re-recordings, especially on "It Won't Bring Her Back" and "Cowboy Hall of Fame," display him in excellent voice. The only real downers here are Williams' breathy performance on "Galveston," simply because she overdramatizes a song already so full of it, that it collapses under its lyric weight. Campbell's duet on "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" (of course) is too nostalgic and uninspired to resonate; but how could his original single ever be equaled, let alone surpassed? In addition, there are times when the string arrangements are just overblown ("Where Words End"). These complaints aside, for Webb's fans, this is well worth investigating.

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