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Western Seeds Record Company, 2016 

by Maurice Hope
  • Singer-songwriter’s astute interpretation of an eclectic section of material.

Yes, I do know of California band, I See Hawks In L.A and enjoy the work of Waller, Jr and the boys, ‘one of California’s unique treasures’ according to fellow musician, singer-songwriter guitarist Dave Alvin. Rob’s baritone voice is one of those weathered and muscular ones that brings alive a lyric, and on deciding to record a solo record made up of covers it is both intriguing and brave. Any fear of how some songs would fit are soon dispelled as Waller, JR ups his game to deliver an album I will be playing for a long, long time. He doesn’t just cover the songs but in a number of cases it will be his I reach for first in days to come as the definitive version.

Produced by Marc Doten (he also plays piano, bass, organ, synthesizers, backing vocals, percussion, computes, guitars) with support from Waller’s band buddies Paul Lacques, Anthony Lacque and Shawn Nourse plus slots from Joel Guzman, Marcus Watkins, Nora Germain, Peter Burke, Steve Rank, Kate Williams and Robert Rex Waller, Sr plays piano on gospel standard “Amazing Grace”, So diverse and alternate is the material and styles from Rob the listener is, on occasion tossed to and fro like some one cast afloat in a small boat in the high seas, or at very least found guiding a canoe through the rapids of a mountain river. In the main it’s an exhilarating ride, although with a couple of tracks I would need to be in the mood to hit the replay button. Not that this is the case with the mercurial lead off composition “Walking Through Your Town in the Snow” (Bruce Utah Phillips), steeped in superb fiddle (Germain), piano and beautiful harmony vocals of his wife, Kate Williams it is both a magical moment and fitting tribute to the great writer. Soon to follow you have an accordion plied colossal version of “Albuquerque” (Neil Young) and with much drive, an inspired version of “Don’t let The Sun Go Down On Your Grievances” (I could imagine East Nashville’s Eric Brace doing this). Plus you have a beautifully measured, piano led interpretation of Ray Davies’ (The Kinks) “Waterloo Sunset” and amazing “Fancy Free” (a hit for the Oak Ridge Boys) that is totally bizarre and at the same time, enjoyable and Willie Nelson cheery favourite “Me And Paul”. I have long loved this song, one said to be about Nelson and his drummer Paul English. “Counting My Lucky Star” (Mike Stinson) is another he nails, love the line ‘Ray Price on the radio’. Less impressive you have a big production of The Hollies hit’ “The Air That I Breathe” (Albert Hammond, Mike Hazelwood) and “The Crystal Ship” (as done and written in part by Jim Morrison).

Songs he does cover well enough but they aren’t my favourite tipple. Better and more suited to the project you have Bob Dylan’s “She Belongs To Me” and for that matter “Amazing Grace”, a gift to the recently deceased Sarah Waller, that is apart from the aforementioned Utah Phillips gem. I sincerely hope Rob can manage to squeeze, in between his records with I See Hawks In L.A to make another record like this!