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J.D. Souther

Natural History

(Entertainment One; US: 31 May 2011; UK: 14 Jun 2011)

Performing history au naturel

Back in college, I had a roommate named Dave who was engaged to a girl from out of state. On the day he decided to try LSD for the first time, his fiancée called him on the phone to break up. She didn’t offer an explanation. She just said, “Listen to the Eagles’ ‘Best of My Love’.” It was a trite song full of sappy clichés that provided no insight. My roommate decided to go and a see what was on television instead of listening to the song, watching the movie In Cold Blood on the small screen. It seemed to cheer him up.


I hated that song before the break up, but I initially did not pay that much attention to it. As it rose to a number one hit, one could not escape it. My fondest wish is to never hear the insipid lyrics masked as heavy poetry (e.g., “You know we always had each other baby / I guess that wasn’t enough”) or schmaltzy melody again. Someone should bury all copies of the song wherever they store nuclear waste so it cannot be dug up for a zillion years. If you like “Best of My Love”, well, in the immortal words of Cee Lo, “Forget You”—you know what I mean. Don’t bother contributing feedback saying it’s not so bad, it is. The song is pure, unadulterated crap.


J.D. Souther wrote “Best of Our Love”, along with Don Henley and Glenn Frey of the Eagles. I don’t hate these guys. Souther is a talented songwriter and musician who has helped compose many first-rate songs that include other Eagles’ hits such as “New Kid in Town” and “Heartache Tonight”. I loved Frey on Wiseguy as a record company honcho, and Henley’s “Boys of Summer” is a true classic. But Souther cannot leave well enough alone. He includes a sappy, piano drenched version of “Best of Our Love” on his latest album, Natural History. The song has not gotten better with age. “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Souther sings. Indeed—I wish Souther would stop.


That said, Natural History is a fine album. The other ten tracks offer much pleasure. Souther, a fan of the late Roy Orbison, knows how to use his rich voice for full emotive effect. The material is minimally orchestrated with only a few instruments. This is from where the “Natural” in the title takes its name. The singer and his songs stand naked, in a musical sense. The album was recorded in Nashville with the town’s best session players, with Jerry Douglas on dobro, Viktor Krauss on upright bass, and Bryan Sutton on guitar.


The “History” in the title comes from the fact that Souther is covering songs from his past, including his lone top-ten hit as a solo artist, “You’re Only Lonely”, two cuts he penned most associated with the queen of country rock, Linda Ronstadt (“Faithless Love” and “Prisoner in Disguise”), and the lovely lullaby made popular by the Dixie Chicks, “I’ll Take Care of You”.  The renditions here are sparse and sincere, which serve the plainspoken sentiments in a complementary manner.


My roommate has long ago moved on, and as far as I know never thinks of taking acid again or getting back together with the girl who broke his heart long distance—but I can bet you he never wants to hear that song again. I sure don’t. My suggestion is to download the album and wipe that track from your computer. You can thank me later.

Rating:

Steven Horowitz has a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Iowa, where he continues to teach a three-credit online course on "Rock and Roll in America". He has written for many different popular and academic publications including American Music, Paste and the Icon. Horowitz is a firm believer in Paul Goodman's neofunctional perspective on culture and that Sam Cooke was right, a change is gonna come.


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