Thursday, April 19, 2007

Simple - He's The Greatest Living American Songwriter

There's something extra special about songwriters performing their own songs and that's exactly what Jimmy Webb does on this album. Most people will know these songs from their original, mostly, hit versions.

Let me set out my stall, Jimmy Webb is the greatest living American songwriter - and he'd give most of the dead ones a good run for their money. His lyrics are poetic, his melodies sublime and his ability as a musical arranger leaves most of his peers in the shade - he's also a pretty nifty pianist.

The ten songs on Easy Pieces are almost all from the late 60s and when this album was released in 1996 they were all nearly thirty years old. Ten years on and to me they sound better than ever. I've heard him play the songs on this album in concert and I'm always amazed at his sensitivity - on this album each and every song is given free emotional reign. His versions of Glen Campbell's two classic songs, Wichita Lineman and Galveston make you forget there ever was an earlier version. Lineman especially is the definitive version of what must be one of the most beautiful songs of the last fifty years.

‘I'm a lineman for the county, and I drive the main roads.
Lookin' in the sun for another overload.
I hear you singing in the wire.
I can hear you thru the whine.
And the Wichita Lineman, is still on the line.’

When Webb’s voice soars, as he sings "still on the line" you feel the emptiness. It contains one of the most haunting lines ever written in a pop song. 'And I need you more than want you'. Others have tried to capture that simple thought in similar ways but no one has ever got close to Jimmy L. Webb.

The man is a genius; his songs will live forever and please don't just write him off as the whacky guy who wrote MacArthur Park (which is a masterpiece whether it's here or in the hands of Richard Harris and don't forget Frank Sinatra's quite brilliant version). This album would definitely be amongst my ten for the proverbial island (sorry I couldn't limit myself to just eight songs!)


r morris said...

I agree with your assessment that Jimmy Webb is perhaps the greatest American songwriter, though the point is certainly arguable (Cole Porter, Gershwin come to mind). His songs are about typical Americans and strike a chord with middle-class and working-class Americans (such as myself). Two of my all-time favorite songs are his, Wichita Lineman and By the Time I Get To Phoenix. I'll have to look into your album of the week--I didn't even know it existed.
The last few days have been bad ones in the US. This week we marked the anniversaries of the Oklahoma City bombings (165 dead), Columbine (today) 12 dead, and added Virginia Tech 32 dead. Seems like America is in no danger of running out of home-grown terrorists and psychos.

r morris said...

Another couple of great Webb songs are 'Galveston' and 'The Moon is a Harsh Mistress'. Glen Campbell really nails the mood on Webb's tunes.

r morris said...

My apologies, Richard. I didn't see the word 'living' before songwriter. You may well be right. :)

Richard Havers said...

There's a great CD with many of Glen and Jimmy collaberations on it - if not the majority,