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Music Review: Jimmy Webb – Just Across the River

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Baby-boomers, rejoice!  Jimmy Webb has released a new CD that is comprised of some of his classics, including “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,”  “Highwayman,” and “Wichita Lineman.” Webb wrote all the songs, although there are many folks who have never heard him perform them.  Webb is not alone, though; he is joined by a competent group of popular artists.

Hearing Webb teamed with Vince Gill for “Oklahoma Nights” is not surprising, but who associates Billy Joel with “Wichita Lineman”? And who would be more appropriate than Glen Campbell to pair with the man who wrote some of his most successful hits on “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”? We may miss Willie Nelson (as well as Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennnings, and Kris Kristofferson) on “Highwayman,” but his absence there is made up for by his presence on “If You See Me Getting Smaller.”

Jimmy Webb’s songs are deep and moody, songs that portend loss or mourn it. Maybe they weren’t all about breaking up, parting, and rueful memories, but those themes are major in his catalogue. Even the sweetly romantic “All I Know,” performed here with Linda Ronstadt, is bittersweet.

Back in the late sixties, Jimmy Webb was a phenomenon, conquering both the top-forty and country charts. Known for such benchmark songs as “MacArthur Park” and “Up, Up, and Away,” Webb was rewarded by the plethora of popular artists who have recorded his music and the awards he has received over the years.

Also contributing to Just Across the River are Lucinda Williams (“Galveston”), Jackson Browne (“P.F. Sloane”), Michael McDonald (“Where Worlds End”), and J.D. Souther (“I Was Too Busy Loving You.”) A nicely produced booklet includes the lyrics to all the songs on the CD and Webb’s notes detailing his feelings about their history.

There is a warmth to Just Across the River, maybe it’s an aspect of Webb’s experience or of the high regard in which other artists hold him, but it comes across to the listener. The songs may be sad, but there is such pleasure to be gained in the listening.

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