Jimmy Webb


Band members                             Related acts

- Jimmy Webb -- vocals, keyboards

 

  supporting musicians (1972)

- Joni Mitchell -- backing vocals

- Skip Mosher -- bass, sax, flute

- Ray Rich -- drums, percussion

- Fred Tackett -- lead guitar

- Susan Webb -- backing vocals

 

 

 

 

- none known

 

 

 


 

Genre: pop

Rating: 3 stars ***

Title:  Letters

Company: Reprise

Catalog: MS 2055
Year:
 1972

Country/State: Elk City, Oklahoma

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: --

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 1126

Price: $20.00

 

Urban legend has it that Jimmy Webb had not intention of releasing the material that came out as 1972's "Letters".   If you believe the story, these ten tracks were demos never intended for widespread distribution and Webb originally sought to have the album withdrawn.  (The album didn't sell worth squat, so if that was the case, Webb simply wasted his time and energy.)  Personally I have doubts about the story given the album was produced by Larry Marks (the first time Webb had used an outside producer).  Add to that the collection was considerably more commercial than his two previous Reprise studio releases, plus about half of the tracks included extensive arrangements and orchestration - hardly something that would have been done for demos.  So the good news included the fact Webb had a knack for writing catchy melodies ('' and '').   He was also a far better singer than you would have expected.   Webb clearly lacked Glenn Campbell's anonymous commercial sheen, but he was certainly more capable of carrying a tune than say fellow Reprise recording artist Randy Newman.   When Webb kept the melody simply and stayed away from anything that stressed his voice (the acoustic version of 'Galveston', the autobiographical rocker 'Song Seller', or the hysterical 'Campo de Encino'), he was actually quite likeable.   

 

"Letters" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Galveston  (Jimmy Webb) - 4:08

I'll be the first to admit I grew up listening to the Glen Campbell version - I didn't hear Jimmy Webb's version until I was in my 50s.   Sounding very much like a demo; just Webb and an acoustic guitar, it took about a minute for the song to actually kick in (Webb initially playing various chords on his acoustic guitar), but when the actually melody kicked in around the 60 second mark, the tune literally blew Campbell's heavily orchestrated version out of the water.  Same melody, but so much better in this spare acoustic arrangement.   Widely interrupted as a subtle anti-Vietnam commentary, Webb's  always claimed the song was inspired by the Spanish-American war.    rating: **** stars.
2.) Campo de Encino
  (Jimmy Webb) - 4:49

No idea if it's true, but the song was supposedly inspired by Harry Nilsson who was busting Webb's chops about always writing sensitive singer/songwriter material without any sense of humor.   Breezy, Tex-Mex melody with some funny lyrics (vegetarian diet, primal screams, etc.)  that sounded a but like a good Mike Nesmith tune.   rating: *** stars
3.) Love Hurts   (Boudreaux Bryant) - 3:55

The lone cover on the album, Webb turned in a surprisingly impressive cover of this old rock chestnut.   Not exactly as rocking as the Nazareth version, but quite pretty and Webb's Southern accent was prominently displayed on this one. Reprise tapped the song as the supporting single, though I believe the 45 had a different mix than the album version.   rating: *** stars
4.) Simile  (Jimmy Webb) - 3:12

I'm guessing 'Simile' was a good example of one of those hyper-sensitive tracks that got under Nilsson's skin.   It certainly bugged the crap out of me.  Having Joni Mitchell on backing vocals didn't help this sappy ballad.   rating: ** stars 

5.) Hurt Me Well  (Jimmy Webb) - 4:09

Yeah, the personal sadness theme quickly got old, but 'Hurt Me Well' had a couple of things going for it, including one of his prettier melodies and a rare example of how good Webb's voice could actually be.   This was one of the few tuned were he actually stretched his voice with surprisingly accomplished results.   The track would have been even better without the saccharine orchestration.    rating: *** stars

 

(side 2)
1.) Once In The Morning  (Jimmy Webb) - 3:04

'Once In a Morning' sounded like a weak attempt to craft a slice of randy Newman-styled humor.   Didn't do a great deal for me.  The Supremes ended up recording the song for their "The Supremes Produced and Arranged By Jimmy Webb" LP - Webb actually arranged the tune as duet with Jean Terrell.   rating: *** stars

2.) Catharsis  (Jimmy Webb) - 3:26

Showcasing Webb and a piano, 'Catharsis' was another track that sounded like a barebones demo.  Based on the lyrics, it sounded like Webb wasn't all that thrilled with some of the music critics he'd been dealing with.   rating: ** stars
3.) Song Seller  (Jimmy Webb) - 3:32

Marking it's second appearance on a Webb album (it was also on 1970's "Words & Music"), 'Song Seller' was clearly an autobiographical effort,.  This time out it was also an atypical upbeat rocker, complete with hysterical lyrics (loved the nod to The Fab Four), one of the seven words guaranteed to get your song banned from radio play, and some dazzling Fred Tacket distorted fuzz lead guitar.  rating: **** stars
4.) When Can Brown Begin  (Jimmy Webb) - 4:01

Written on a houseboat on the Thymes River, 'When Can Brown Begin' could have been one of the prettiest tunes Webb ever wrote, were it not for the overwhelming orchestration.   Nice racial tolerance lyrics.  Sister Susan Webb was featured on the backing vocals.  The Supremes also covered this one.   YouTube has a live performance of the tune at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VckRQWLmEc    rating: *** stars
5.) Piano  (Jimmy Webb) - 4:01

Geez, 'Piano' was maudlin enough to serve as a cover tune for someone like Josh Groban.  I can imagine lonely English majors hugging the album to their hearts as the cried themselves to sleep listening to this one.  Yech.   rating: ** stars

 

Reprise released a single, but did little to promote it, or the parent album, which served to effectively end his relationship with the company:

 

 

- 1972's 'Love Hurts' b/w 'Campo de Encino' (Reprise catalog number REP 1116)

 

 Not a masterpiece, but there was enough interesting material here to warrant further investigation of Webb's catalog,

 

 

 

 

 
    

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