A writer this erudite and imaginative leaves precious little space for clichés.
Jon Lusk 2009
As the ‘invisible man’ of LA’s 1970s country rock scene, J D Souther wrote and co-wrote massive hits for Eagles and Linda Ronstadt before making four solo albums, and two as part of The Souther Hillman Furay Band.
If The World Was You is his first solo album since 1984, (when he relocated to a ranch near Nashville to concentrate on writing) and finds him on brilliant form – even if the musical settings aren’t quite what those who enjoyed the 2007 retrospective Border Town might have expected.
In a nod to the Texan city of Amarillo, where he grew up absorbing as much jazz as country and rock, Souther surrounds himself stylishly with two horn players, upright bass, drums and piano, in arrangements that at times recall vintage Steely Dan. Naturally, there’s also the odd lyric in Spanish and quite a strong Latin feel on Journey Down The Nile and Rain.
Souther’s lyrics almost exclusively concern affairs of the heart, but a writer this erudite, witty, caustic and imaginative, leaves precious little space for clichés. Even if he does rhyme ‘coast’ with ‘ghost’ on The Border Guard. From the cinematic hush of I’ll Be There At Closing Time to the spectacular closer, it’s quality all the way.
Souther’s tenor voice has deepened slightly in the quarter century since his last recording, but still has a youthful yearning and vulnerability, with the occasional pervy, comically exasperated yelp. Take for instance the way he says the second half of ‘girlfriend’ on the smoochy In My Arms Tonight, or his increasingly nagging return to the last word in: ‘If the world was you, I’d travel extensively/ visiting some places twice.”
It’s a key phrase in what’s basically the title track, the 13 minute live-in-the-studio opus The Secret Handshake Of Fate. Over a cyclical riff playfully echoing the central motif of Miles Davis’ All Blues, the players take turns to stretch out and improvise. Jeff Coffin howls and squeals into his soprano sax, and pianist Chris Walters takes a typically cool, understated solo when Souther encourages him.
The only problem is deciding what pigeonhole this belongs in.