THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 02, 2023 BY SHAWN UNDERWOOD
I have to profess, a vocalist’s range is not something where I tend to pay enough attention. But it came up front and center on Robert Rex Waller, Junior’s latest album, See the Big Man Cry. Like hearing Roy Orbison or Raul Malo for the first time, you suddenly realize there’s a whole other axis on which to gauge the performance. Producer Carla Olson plays that ability like another instrument, and between she and Waller, they convey a love of songwriter’s art, and admiration for earlier versions while making these songs sound new.
The project is also a throwback to vinyl days, with two “sides”. The first one is a pop and rock set, with Waller updating The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore, a Frankie Valli hit, and I’ll Never Dance Again, done by Herman’s Hermits and Bobbie Rydell, among others. There’s No Living Without Your Loving features piano, giving it a little more of a R&B feel. The bridge to Side B comes first in the form of a tragic sea tale, Let Her Go Down, from Steeleye Span. The other end of the bridge is the Springsteen tune, Tougher Than the Rest. It has almost a Caribbean feel, but Waller still delivers that emotional punch, accentuated this time by a sweet accordion part.
The second side is firmly over in the country and Americana camps. It leads off with A Woman’s Touch, a country ballad about a man seeing the lonelier part of being single. Amanda Ruth layers a bit of Beatles pop on top of a cowpunk number from Rank And File. Full of double-entendres like “she can’t cook, but she’s got something to eat”, you have to grin while you’re tapping your foot. The title cut is a Charlie Louvin number where a restraining order keeps a man from his son. The Waller/Paul Marshall composition, My Favorite Loneliness, would be just as at home with their primary band, southern California country-rock icons I See Hawks In LA. Gene Clark’s Gypsy Rider finishes things up with a piano-led ode to a motorcycle and the open road.
As you’ve no doubt realized this record is mostly covers (with one original) that by and large come from an earlier time when harmonies and innocence were at a higher point. Combined with Robert Rex Waller, Jr’s modern takes, the whole thing takes on a timeless feel and rises above any particular genre. See the Big Man Cry will be at home regardless of what you put it next to in your music collection.