The most surprising, diverse, and possibly the most satisfying of all of Jimmy Webb's early solo LPs, Letters presents the singer/songwriter in an unexpectedly wide-ranging series of musical settings, all of which complement his somewhat restricted vocal abilities. There are surprises throughout, beginning with the opening cut, "Galveston." Sung by Webb with only a pair of acoustic guitars for accompaniment, this version of the song would never challenge Glen Campbell's recording for time of AM radio, but it is delivered with a quiet fervor and intimacy, and a close embrace of every word, that Campbell's version, for all of its polish, never gets near. Much of the rest of the album, however, has Webb working within a more conventional pop/rock setting, beginning with "Campo de Encino," which comes complete with flute courtesy of Skip Mosher. Webb brushes up against the outer boundaries of his vocal range and expressiveness on several of these numbers, yet, surprisingly, moves nimbly through a rendition of the classic "Love Hurts," which also benefits from a fairly inventive, slightly dissonant, and airy orchestration. Much of the album is hooked around lost or unrequited love on some level, but the sounds are sufficiently varied to hold one's interest. "Simile"'s gently rippling solo piano accompaniment is followed by the soaring and highly emotional "Hurt Me Well," which shows Webb at the height of his emotional connection with a song, in the midst of an instrumental setting that's close to the ornate arrangements that he wrote for Richard Harris in the 1960s as he ever got on his own records. Lest one worry that the album is totally steeped in romantic angst, it isn't quite -- one trio of songs deals with different sides of being a songwriter, "Catharsis" casting Webb in a lyrical, gently reflective mood in approaching the dark aspects of fame and creativity; while the hard-rocking, fuzz tone-laden "Song Seller" (which previously appeared in another version on Words & Music) deals with the creative/business treadmill on which composers can find themselves trapped; and "Piano" is about the solitude that all creativity seems to entail, at some point. These might invite accusations of self-pity, but Webb never descends to that level in his performances, and the lyrics are complex enough to invite a close look and analysis of the words -- indeed, this is like a John Lennon album of the period. And "When Can Brown Begin" recaptures, in its tempo, texture, and accompaniment, the most poignant elements of Webb's collaborations with Richard Harris. Arguably the best of Webb's solo albums, Letters was reissued on CD in Japan in 1999, with full lyrics.
AllMusic Review by Bruce Eder