Robert James Waller

The Ballads of Madison County

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A concept album "based on the themes" of The Bridges of Madison County, Robert James Waller's best-selling novel turned Clint Eastwood movie, The Ballads of Madison County is an engaging, beautifully performed but left of center album of '60s- and '70s-style pop-Americana music. Interestingly (considering he is an author), Waller plays acoustic guitar and sings lead vocals throughout, but only penned three of the ten songs. The difference is made up mostly of standards (both country and popular) and assorted extras, including a spooky, slightly psychedelic spoken word piece excerpted from a W.B. Yeats poem. Overall, it's an ambitious project that's far from a cheap excuse to sell more books. In fact, Robert James Waller is one of those rare examples of a celebrity non-musician who, freed of the need to sell albums, is allowed to concentrate on making art. Produced by Arif Mardin, the disc has a dreamy, vaguely Brill Building/L.A. Wrecking Crew flavor, calling to mind the classic work of Glen Campbell. Waller is a competent singer, with a fragile, vibrato-soaked warble often reminiscent of Gary Stewart. Perhaps a little too arty and enigmatic for the mass public who bought the book that inspired it, The Ballads of Madison County is nonetheless worth seeking out for fans of hard to classify singer/songwriters like Dick Feller, Bob Lind, P.F. Sloan, or Rod McKuen.

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