John David Souther: Black Rose

JohnDavidSouther_BlackRoseJ.D. Souther’s 1976 sophomore solo album reissued with bonuses

After releasing his 1972 self-titled debut (which has been concurrently reissued with seven bonus tracks), J.D. Souther joined with Chris Hillman and Richie Furay to release two albums as the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band. So it wasn’t until 1976 that he returned with this second solo album, produced by the red hot Peter Asher, and featuring performances from Lowell George, Joe Walsh, Waddy Wachtel, Jim Keltner and Andrew Gold, Linda Ronstadt, David Crosby, Art Garfunkel, Don Henley, Glenn Frey and other luminaries. The album is more refined and musically expansive than the debut, and Souther sounds more assured as he lets his songs unfold and reach beyond a singer-songwriter style.

Souther draws upon an expanded set of musical roots and allows himself to linger, as on the gospel-tinged vocal coda of “If You Have Crying Eyes.” Souther and Asher let the performance build to a crescendo and then wind down with emotional vocalizing atop the backing of Asher, Gold and Ronstadt. The musicianship is more sophisticated as well, with the opening “Banging My Head Against the Moon” taking on an island tone as the rhythm guitar, drums and Paul Stallworth’s bass provide intricate accompaniment. By 1976 Asher was hitting full stride as a producer, with seminal albums by James Taylor, Tony Joe White and Linda Ronstadt under his belt, and he helps Souther draw something deeper from his music.

Comparing the demo of “Silver Blue” to the album track, the song’s despairing, open-ended questions become more nuanced, and Stanley Clark’s beautiful double bass adds a duet voice. The recording is a textbook example of how instrumentation can reinforce and amplify a song’s tone, as does Donald Byrd’s flugelhorn on the late night “Midnight Prowl.” David Campbell’s arrangement of cello and flute on “Faithless Love” isn’t as surprising, but provides interesting contrast to Souther’s blue, crooned notes, and strings also add drama to “Doors Swing Open.” The latter’s wariness of hollow relationships weaves into Souther’s pessimistic tapestry of romantic turmoil, unrequited love and lost partners, culminating in the title song’s funereal symbol.

The album didn’t launch any singles onto the chart, though “Simple Man, Simple Dreams,” blossomed into a Ronstadt title song and inspired the title of her autobiography. But even with only limited commercial success (charting at #85), the album was a fuller expression of Souther’s music than was the debut, and remains a high point of his catalog. Omnivore’s 2016 reissue adds five demos, a live version of “Faithless Love,” and “Cheek to Cheek” from Lowell George’s Thanks I’ll Eat it Here. The demos highlight songs recorded earlier (by Ronstadt and Souther-Hillman-Furay) and later (by Souther), which are worth hearing, but don’t expound upon the album itself. Buy this for the original ten tracks, enjoy an under-heralded mid-70s classic, and get bonus tracks in the bargain. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

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