Jimmy Webb almost single-handedly invented artful Americana with songs like "Wichita Lineman," "Galveston," and "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" (in retrospect, the so-called "towns" series), all AM radio hits for Glen Campbell in the late 1960s, and when Webb is at his best as a songwriter, his compositions perfectly capture the large spaces, deep isolation, desperate hopes, and quiet yearning of life in modern America, all done with grace and dignity. Although he has a serviceable voice, Webb's professional career has been as a songwriter, and while his own performances are usually intimate and affecting, he's generally relied on other singers to bring the best out in his songs. Working with producer Fred Molin in Nashville, surrounded by some of Nashville's best session players, and further aided by a host of famous guest singers, Webb released an album of duets, Just Across the River, in 2010, and this set again finds him working with Molin and those Nashville session players, and again aided by an illustrious list of guest singers, including, this time around, Lyle Lovett, Carly Simon, Keith Urban, David Crosby, and Art Garfunkel. among others. The result is a bookend to that 2010 release, with the same feel and makeup. Among the highlights this time out are a version of Webb's "Elvis and Me" featuring the Jordanaires, a fine take on "If These Walls Could Speak" with David Crosby and Graham Nash adding harmonies, a desolate "Rider from Nowhere" with members of America providing background vocals, and a striking rendition of "Honey Come Back" with Kris Kristofferson, whose mostly spoken word vocals crack and creak with a whiskey-tinged and worldweary gruffness that gives the song tremendous poignancy. A lot of attention will probably go to the version of Webb's mock epic "MacArthur Park" that's presented here, which finds Brian Wilson adding Beach Boys-styled vocals and atmospherics, and it's certainly interesting, but the song itself still sounds ponderous and bloated, and probably always will, no matter who sings it.
AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett