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Robert Rex Waller Jr.
Western Seeds Record Company
A Superb Collection of Cover Songs Given A Sensitive and Loving Overhaul.
Robert Rex Waller Jr. is the voice and words behind one of my favourite albums of the last 5 years; I See Hawks in LA’s Mystery Drug https://rockingmagpie.wordpress.com/cd-reviews-2014/i-see-hawks-in-la-mystery-drug-2013/ so when this disc landed in my lap I instantly got a funny feeling in my tummy. Would it stand up to the previous record? Will it be better? Will it be different? Gosh….I was as excited as a teenager on a Friday night.
Well, Waller’s instantly recognisable voice pervades throughout and I have now sat back in a comfy chair for a whole afternoon, with numerous mugs of hot tea and a plate of ginger snaps soaking up this magical music on your behalf. There’s no need to thank me.
Wow! The album opens with a haunting version of Utah Phillip’s Walking Through Your Town in the Snow; and while the timeless sad tale of an itinerant worker wandering around looking for work is given the Hawk’s trademark ‘feel’ the sentiment is never lost; and the mood is set for what is about to dawn. I only recently discovered Utah Phillips via Otis Gibbs fabulous podcasts # See end of review.
The first of 5 or 6 surprises comes in on song #2; a tasteful reinterpretation of a lesser known Neil Young song, Albuquerque from Tonight’s the Night. Listening now, with Waller pouring his heart out, it really is one of Neil’s ‘great lost songs.’
Of the songs I already knew, the Hollies’ The Air That I breathe and more importantly (The Kinks) Waterloo Sunset at first seem strange choices; but Hell Waller would have heard them as a teen (like I did) and great songs like these stick around in the brain; and his treatment is heartfelt and touching on both.
Another left of centre selection is The Crystal Ship! Only slightly stripped back, this version is staggering in it’s simplicity and complexity and it sounds like the band were having a blast in the studio!
With the whole of the Modern American Songbook to select from, Waller hasn’t gone for the obvious with his Dylan choice, She Belongs to Me and he bends it, shapes it and makes it into a pretty damn fine Alt. Country song that could grace anything released in the last 20 years of that much loved genre.
Possibly an odd choice; but another from Waller’s teenage record collection Me and Paul by Willie Nelson was new to me; and the basic construction makes for a song that had me researching the original.
Robert Rex Waller Jr. has one of those voices made for the adage ‘I could listen to him singing the phone book’ and that is how I feel; but my heart sank a little when I saw the inclusion of Amazing Grace, but…..the simple church like piano (has father Robert Rex Waller Sr.) takes this much maligned song back into the territory it originally came from and took my breath away.
Favourite song though, goes to something I’d never heard before; the beautiful Don’t Pay Them No Mind, written by Robert Ahlet and B Scott (?) and a hit for Nina Simone in 1967. Staggering only comes close to describing the lyrics and Waller’s sensitive and slightly haunting handling shows his voice off in a way I’d never expected.
There are quite a few songs (and songwriters) that I didn’t know either; but Counting My Lucky Stars (Pail Stinson) and the Jazz-lite crooning on Night Owl (Herman Hupfeld) both made my ears prick up and help bind together a great selection of songs from a man with great taste.
It’s not clear why singer-songwriter, playwright, Professor of Writing and self-styled intellectual Waller has recorded a covers album; but I’m pretty damn pleased he has.
Released July 1st 2016