Johnny Rivers

L.A. Reggae

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Johnny Rivers' early-'70s album L.A. Reggae was an all-star affair, including Jimmy Webb on keyboards and Crickets co-founder Jerry Allison on drums. It was somewhat of a big-band affair as well, with more than a dozen hands, yet it never sounds overblown or over-produced, and it did return Rivers to the charts after a disappointing start to the decade. The album mixed covers of vintage rock & roll and '60s standards (including Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl") with some newer songs and in tandem with a handful of originals, which left it straddling two different cultural eras -- and it pulled it off, mostly thanks to the consistency of Rivers' singing and the passion he brought to all of the material, whether a standard from 1950s New Orleans or something he'd written that year. It opened with an acknowledgement of Rivers' Louisiana roots, a rippling version of Huey "Piano" Smith's "Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu," and there were other plunges into the past, but the original ballads that comprise the middle of the album -- "On the Borderline," "Come Home America," "Stories to a Child" -- take the record firmly into contemporary times, and offer a glimpse of Rivers as a singer/songwriter rather than a rock & roller. These pieces hold their own, as does Rivers' version of Paul Simon's "Mother and Child Reunion," mostly thanks to his soulful vocals throughout. He doesn't just "cover" the songs he does, but throws himself into them, so that they're as personal as the contemporary originals; as for the latter, they are a little more introspective in their writing than the classics that surround them, but exude the same strong passion and energy, just redirected slightly.

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