Written by: Cis van Looy

In addition to a premier role with the Americana collective I See Hawks in L.A., Robert Rex Waller Jr. has been working with Carla Olson on and off stage for some time now. For ISHILA, the duet Bossier City preceded others and Waller appeared on Olson’s Have Harmony Will Travel. Now there is a second solo album, just like on Fancy Free you don’t have to look for your own work here. With the exception of the self-composed, country-tinged My Favorite Loneliness, a series of covers were opted for.

Compared to the solo debut, which mainly dabbled in folk and country corners, in addition to an obvious Dylan song, also a foray into sixties pop with The Kinks’ Waterloo Sunset, it goes more in the direction of monumental pop by legendary songwriter duos with a primary role for the vocals. Waller is helped by his companions from ISHILA Paul Laques and Paul Marshall, guitarist John York, pianist Skip Edwards and violinist Katrin Wolfberg also appear here, while Carla Olson directs the production. We hear her harmonic singing on the closing track Gypsy Rider by Gene Clark, Carla sang along on the original version at the time.

This cover work is no small challenge, the version of The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore that Scott Walker created with The Walker Brothers, is difficult to match let alone surpass. This also applies to There’s No Living Without You, a song by Kaufman and Harrisl that yielded hit success for Gene Pitney in the mid-sixties, in addition to Manfred Mann and Peter & Gordon, and in the eighties there was a version by Mink DeVille. Waller’s interpretation fits in nicely with his warm voice timbre that effortlessly reaches from deep baritone to thin tenor tones, with ubiquitous, fiery vocal backing from Gia Ciambotti (Lucinda Williams) and Gregg Sutton.

Bobby Rydell’s famous I’ll Never Dance Again, then a nice piece of folk from Steeleye Span accompanied by violin and after a reprise of honky tonker Freddy Heart’s Easy Loving, we’re in countryland. We waltz disconsolately on with Springsteen’s Tougher Than The Rest to melancholic accordion sounds and deeply resonant baritone guitar. A Woman’s in duet with Carla Olson by the unsurpassed James Intveld fits in seamlessly, supported by a plaintive pedal steel from Marty Rifkin.

Olson is again present as a singer on the energetic Amanda Ruth, performed at the time by Rank & File, the underestimated rock quartet from Austin of the brothers Kinman and Alejandro Escovedo. Waller not only surpasses himself in the title song. Beautifully sung, deeply felt, inspired interpretations interspersed with peerless arrangements, this long player claims its place among the better cover albums.

Het album See The Big Man Cry van Robert Rex Waller Jr. is uitgebracht door BFD op 20 oktober 2023.

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