Robert Rex Waller Jr, the frontman for I See Hawks In L.A., continues his long-standing association with Carla Olson, who produces and plays guitar on See The Big Man Cry, his second solo album, which, like the first, Fancy Free, is a collection of covers. Joined by fellow Hawks Paul Lacques and Paul Marshall alongside contributions from Stephen McCarthy of The Long Ryders and Skip Edwards, it’s another eclectic selection of the familiar and the more obscure, sequenced into pop, rock, Americana and country, charting themes of love, loss and the healing power of music.
It kicks off with The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore, originally recorded by Frankie Valli for his solo debut and variously covered by Springsteen, Keane, Neil Diamond and Cher, though perhaps the definite version is the 1966 No. 1 by The Walker Brothers, the standard against which all others are measured. Waller dispenses with the familiar big orchestral arrangement, focusing on piano and guitar, though still adding violin, viola and cello flourishes, and, while he doesn’t have Scott Walker’s deep and rich baritone he still soaringly catches the song’s emotional notes.
Somewhat less well-known, although it was a US Top 40 hit, Girl Of My Dreams was written and released by Bram Tchaikovsky (aka Ronnie Thomas) in 1979 for his eponymous power pop debut after leaving The Motors, Waller switching the Byrdsian tones of the original for a more Tom Petty feel.
A big drama pop 60s hit for Gene Pitney and given an R&B treatment by Manfred Mann, Waller takes a more piano-led, countrified approach to There’s No Living Without Your Loving without losing the sense of the era. Keeping the county undertones, he stays in the 60s with a military drum beat for the broken teen heart I’ll Never Dance Again, a 1962 Top 20 US hit for Bobby Rydell (it never charted in the UK where it was covered by Freddie & The Dreamers and Herman’s Hermits). There’s a decided stylistic swerve as he digs into the Steeleye Span catalogue with Edwards on piano and Kaitlin Wolfberg on violin for a rather splendid slow swaying rendition of the shipwreck song Let Her Go Down from 1980’s Sails Of Silver.
A decade earlier, after knocking around since the late 1950s, Freddie Hart scored his breakthrough hit with his self-penned Easy Loving, a number that’s become a country standard, Waller hewing closely to the original with its falsetto intro and even featuring Hart’s original steel player, JD Walter.
Having mentioned Springsteen earlier, one of his own crops up next, Edwards on piano and John York with twangy guitar for Tougher Than The Rest, the accordion solo imparting a somewhat Texicali flavour. And very much keeping it country, Marty Rifkin on keening pedal steel, the slow waltzing honky tonk weepie A Woman’s Touch was a 2008 hit for the undeservedly somewhat under the radar James Intveld and is something of a highlight here.
Having generally kept the volume down up to now, he lets rip with a rowdy romp and stomp through Amanda Ruth, a 1982 number from Austin country rock outfit Rank And File, though it’s likely better known from the Everlys’ 1985 version of Born Yesterday.
They press the pause button on the covers for My Favourite Loneliness, written by himself and Marshall. However, with Wolfberg again on violin, you could be forgiven for thinking it was a forgotten track from an early Jackson Browne album—another highlight and persuasive argument for a whole solo album of similar originals.
The title track finally arrives, about a man bumping into his ex-wife, who has a restraining order against him, and his oblivious young son, surprisingly written by a woman, Patsy Ann Bruce, that provided 60s hits for both her husband Ed and Charlie Louvin, Waller’s loping doo wop shaded take being closer to Louvin’s than Bruce’s rockabilly treatment, though you could easily imagine it with a Johnny Cash vibe.
It winds up with Reconsider Me, first recorded in 1969 by Johnny Adams, a sort of Ray Charles-lite, and given a more country tweak by Narvel Felts in 1975 (it was the biggest hit for both artists). Still, the take here, McCarthy on lap steel, is pure vintage honky tonk with a Charlie Rich lens. And, Edwards anchoring on piano, there’s a touch of déjà vu for Olson with a slower arrangement of Gene Clark’s Gypsy Rider, which they recorded on their 1987 duo album So Rebellious A Lover.
With material that has been thoughtfully chosen and arrangements paying tribute but not slavish to the originals, should he at some time fancy flipping through his record collection for a third volume, it would be very welcome.