Robert Rex Waller Jr. has been the lead singer and one of the songwriters for the oddly named but critically acclaimed band, I See Hawks In L.A. for twenty years. MOJO magazine once named them “the finest country rock band on the planet.”
Though he is still a member of his highly regarded unit the veteran country musician is ready to release his second solo album, See The Big Man Cry, on October 20, 2023. Waller previously recorded Fancy Free back in 2016, and just like this new one it’s loaded with cover songs.
Waller has worked with Jackson Browne, Stevie Wonder, Bernie Leadon, Chris Hillman, Lucinda Williams, Justin Townes Earle, Tom Petty, Phoebe Bridgers, and Dave Alvin just to name a few.
Waller is also a professor at the University of Southern California where he teaches Writing for Visual and Performing Artists.
Like The Rolling Stones’ Tattoo You and Rod Stewart’s Atlantic Crossing the new album has a split personality. The first half of the thirteen song set are pop-rock offerings featuring superbly recorded cover songs. The second half is pure country and includes one original composition.
Waller’s strong voice leans toward country, but its versatility won’t scare away listeners who aren’t fans of the genre. His multi-octave vocal chords can effortlessly handle rock, pop, and even ballads.
The record opens with “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore.” The song was a hit for The Walker Brothers, a British Invasion band that didn’t include any brothers or anyone named Walker. The mostly forgotten, 60s outfit made a very good hit record but it is superbly done here by Waller.
There is a nice cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Tougher Than The Rest” and a modern reworking of Bobby Rydell’s “I’ll Never Dance Again” – a song also released by Herman’s Hermits. Waller also includes Bram Tchaikovsky’s “Girl Of My Dreams.” He even reinterprets “Let Her Go Down,” a track originally recorded by the 70s English folk band, Steeleye Span. The record’s country covers include tunes by Charlie Louvin, Freddy Hart, and Gene Clark. Waller’s unusual choices show he possesses a wide range of influences.
The album was recorded by sidemen who have worked with industry giants for many years. It was produced by Carla Olson and the players include an all-star cast of stellar – if not famous – virtuosos. Among the musicians are two members of Waller’s Hawks. John York, who played with the late, great, Doug Sahm, and who replaced Chris Hillman in The Byrds is onboard too. Also assisting is Benjamin Lecourt who played with The Wallflowers; Skip Edwards (Dave Alvin and Dwight Yoakum); and Stephen McCarthy who worked with both The Long Ryders and The Jayhawks. Excellent pedal steel work was contributed by J.D. Walter who was once part of Hart’s original group.
Every track is worth your listen. I prefer the first half but that’s just me. You are certainly free to feel otherwise.
Videos will be added here after See The Big Man Cry is released.