Some Unfinished Business, Vol. 1

Walter Hyatt

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Some Unfinished Business, Vol. 1 Review

by William Ruhlmann

Prior to his death in a plane crash on May 11, 1996, Walter Hyatt was working on his third solo album. Exactly how far he had gotten on it is not clear. The unsigned liner notes to this album say, "By the spring of 1996 Walt had almost forty songs in waiting." In the publicity materials accompanying the album, Hyatt's widow Heidi, who is the executive producer of the disc, is quoted as saying, "Walter had been in the studio that last year recording songs for his next project." The issue of how close to completion Hyatt got comes up because it is clear that Some Unfinished Business, Vol. 1 is an album on which a group of musicians and producers have added overdubs to Hyatt's unfinished tracks. There is no indication in the notes or the publicity material about how much overdubbing was done, but a guess from listening would be that it is quite extensive. Likely, Hyatt's contribution was limited to his vocals and guitar, and the original tracks were really just simple demos. That said, there is nothing tentative about his singing, and there is nothing unfinished about the songs themselves. Never does Hyatt give anything other than a polished vocal performance, and he never sounds like he's improvising or singing dummy lyrics (as, for instance, John Lennon sometimes did on the similarly posthumous Milk and Honey). And even if all the other instrumentation, including strings and brass here and there, as well as lots of country instruments, is newly added, the resulting tracks don't sound much different from what might have been expected from Hyatt. So, this really can be taken as the successor to King Tears and Music Town that never was. As such, it explores the variety of Hyatt's eclectic musical interests, which range from country to jazz and blues, and on to elements of traditional pop. There are some wonderful songs here, among them the ballad "Going to New Orleans" and "Reach for Me," a rockabilly shuffle that would have been a good song for Elvis Presley to record if he were around to do so. At times, the producers have left in a little bit of the rough demo sound, notably on "When You're Alone," adding to the intimacy of the song itself. This is an album that should be welcomed by Hyatt fans who weren't able to get enough of the singer/songwriter during his lifetime. The matter of overdubbing the work of a deceased artist is always problematic and sometimes actually ghoulish. Here, it seems to fulfill the potential of songs Hyatt finished as compositions and as vocals, if not otherwise.

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