Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Roots - The Everly Brothers

The Everly Brothers
Warner Bros.  WS 1752

My favorite Everly Brothers album.  I've listened to it a hundred times and I still love it.  It was their final studio album for Warner Bros. and arguably their last hurrah as major recording artists.  I like individual cuts on some of their later albums, but none of those records are really worthy of their greatness in their prime.  This album is a country rock masterpiece, one of the definitive statements in that genre.  I would say it is better than the Eagles' entire catalog, but that is like saying candy is better than poop.  It is a concept album as the Everlys explore the roots of their sound.  There are excerpts from a 1952 radio performance by the brothers with their parents that provides a foundation and gives some resonance to the modern songs they perform.  They only do a few really old songs, most of the songs are from modern songwriters but the record has a remarkable consistency of tone.  It is brilliantly arranged by the Everlys and Ron Elliott of the Beau Brummels who also contributed the songs "Ventura Boulevard" and from the Brummels' "Bradley's Barn" album, "Turn Around."  As much as I like the Brummels' version, I think the Everlys' version is the winner.  The older songs are "Shady Grove," "Kentucky" and a jumping version of Jimmie Rodgers' "T For Texas" - with the trippy guitar and the driving beat you'd never guess the song was over 40 years old at the time they recorded it.  There are also some pretty trippy sounds on a return visit to their early hit, "I Wonder If I Care As Much."  I can't say that I prefer it to the original, but it is certainly interesting and fresh.  They perform two Merle Haggard songs, a powerful version of "Mama Tried" and a moving "Sing Me Back Home."  The Everlys' harmonies on Glen Campbell's "Less of Me" are gorgeous and the guitar playing on the cut is very memorable.  Some striking piano playing gives extra feeling to an evocative Randy Newman song, "Illinois."  That is followed by a haunting ballad "Living Too Close To the Ground" by Terry Slater who wrote most of their previous album "The Everly Brothers Sing" and played bass in their backing band.  (Weird rock trivia note: Slater would later become the manager and guru for a-ha.)  It is the most beautiful song on an album full of beautiful songs.  Ray Price's "You Done Me Wrong" gets some chamber pop flavor while still retaining its country essence.  That is the basic philosophy in the record, it is rarely straight country or country-rock.  There are all sorts of modern elements blended with the traditional flavor of the music, chamber pop style strings, psychedelic guitars, keyboards and interesting sound treatments.  It feels old yet sounds modern, a dazzling synthesis of style.  Throughout, the Everlys sing great with winning enthusiasm.  This is a tremendous record and yet it was a flop, outsold by the likes of Paul Mauriat, Sergio Mendes & Brasil 66, Bobby Goldsboro and the Irish Rovers.  I can't even imagine how disappointing it must have been to make such a wonderful record and have no one care.  At least in recent years the record has gotten some of the recognition it deserves but too late to really do the Everlys much good.  How different their career might have been if in 1968 this record had been recognized as the classic album that it is.  Recommended for people who think country rock sucks, don't judge it on the basis of the stuff that came out of L.A., this is the real deal.

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