By Larry Stephens
One of my favorite memories of 1979 is “You’re Only Lonely.” This is the song that — for me and likely many others — identified J. D. Souther. We tend to recognize the lead singers or bands and not the composers. Souther has [co–]composed a fair number of hit songs such as “Best of My Love” and “New Kid In Town” (The Eagles), “Faithless Love” (Linda Ronstadt), “Run Like a Thief” (Bonnie Raitt) and he recorded the Urban Cowboy’s “Hearts Against the Wind” with Ronstadt.
Along the way he was recording his own albums and these have been reintroduced to the world by Omnivore Recordings.
John David Souther was his first release, all tracks composed by him, dating to 1972. It includes “Run Like a Thief” with a bonus track that’s a demo of the song. “Jesus In 3/4 Time” illustrates why much of his music is classified today as country–rock. This is the kind of music we would have mixed with Haggard and Jones when the band I played with appeared in local clubs. We professed to be country to the core, but these songs from the rock world seemed to fit and, more importantly, were in demand by the crowds. “How Long” is more of a rocking song but not as much as the version on The Eagles’ Long Road Out Of Eden album. “Kite Woman” (with an alternate take also featured) is another cousin to country music, a mid–tempo love song with a hook (“kite” woman) you may puzzle over.
Black Rose includes “If You Have Crying Eyes” (with Ronstadt) and “Faithless Love,” already recorded by Ronstadt when this CD came out. This album features an impressive list of musicians including Stanley Clarke and Joe Walsh plus vocalists including Don Henley and Glen Frey of the Eagles, David Crosby, and Art Garfunkel. The album charted at #85 in the United States. “Simple Man, Simple Dream,” another song that Ronstadt would record, epitomizes the CD: songs that are easy–listening, usually with a tinge of country, and without screaming guitars or overpowering drums. These are songs you sit on the couch and relax to hear, not music that overpowers the buzz of a party. “Midnight Prowl” is a bit more edgy with a jazzy trumpet underlining parts of the song and a great bass line.
Home By Dawn is the only album Souther released in the ’80’s. The late ’70’s found him in the Top 10 twice with singles “You’re Only Lonely” and “Her Town Too,” a duet with James Taylor. He decided to make another creative change and made a clear move towards country music by selecting producer David Malloy who had produced albums for Eddie Rabbitt, Reba McEntire and Kenny Rogers. It’s a very good album but failed to chart.
The CD includes “I’ll Take Care of You,” the track from the original album plus a demo track. This song was covered by the Dixie Chicks in 1998 on Wide Open Spaces that went platimum times 12. This is a good song though Souther’s vesion doesn’t sound particularly country to me. The title song is a rocker, sounding like a Bob Seeger song. “Night” surpised me. It’s a good song but the opening measures made me think of “Memories Are Made of This“ and then he switches to a Tommy James’ riff before settling into an identity I don’t associate with some other song.
Souther has written a wide range of good material but most of it that rose to fame did so on the voices of other artists. He’s a good singer, typically a crooner rather than a hard–rocker, and it’s one of the mysteries of the music world why he didn’t have more hits with his own albums. These CDs are an excellent opportunity to enjoy his music and his voice.