Ever since I heard his masterful "Beyond the Blue Horizon" on the soundtrack to Rain Man, I always had the idea in the back of my mind that Lou Christie's really great period was not, in fact, the 60s "Lightnin' Strikes" period, but rather the post-superstardom period, when his chart domination was no longer par for the course.
I am almost always more interested in the part of an artist's career most people would consider the "decline," because it is usually then that an artist takes more risks, gaining back some of the hunger that propelled the initial creativity. For years, unable to find any Lou material other than the fine Rhino Enlighnin'ment anthology (which mainly covered the 60s pop hits), I envisioned the albums that surely must be out there, containing gems like "Blue Horizon" and all sorts of magical stuff.
The funny thing is, for once I was right! I was shocked to find this CD one fateful summer-a Lou Christie compilation devoted to exactly the period I imagined must exist. "Blue Horizon," it turns out, was issued in the post-Buddah years (on the excellent, underrated Lou Christie album from 1974), but I snapped this up anyway, tantalized by the 22 Lou tracks-the promise of a new day dawning!
Glory River marked the true beginning of my idol-worship of Lou Christie, who I now consider to be by far the most underrated pop performer of all-time. The tracks from his Buddah years make a strong case for Lou being in the same category as Brian Wilson and a small handful of true pop geniuses. This is brilliant stuff, not nearly the fluffy bubblegum people associate with the Buddah label.
The first half of the CD presents various singles and album tracks, along with some newly discovered unreleased material from Lou's personal archives, and the second half presents, almost in its entirety, the masterpiece Paint America Love. As I said, at the time I didn't know there was a Paint America Love, but after about two listens to this CD I knew I'd have to track it down.
Lou Christie possesses one of the most flawless voices ever to be applied to pop music, his distinctive tenor seamlessly blossoming into a thrilling falsetto on most of his finest recordings. And while I've come to appreciate pretty much everything Lou has recorded, I'd still argue for the Buddah years to be his prime period. Songs like "She Sold Me Magic" and "I'm Gonna Make You Mine" are electrifying (both were hits), while "Canterbury Road" and "Rake Up the Leaves" reach heights rarely heard in this genre: attaining a baroqueness with beautiful vocal arrangements and truly inventive instrumentation.
The Buddah style makes its presence felt, too, in the lighter-weight "Are You Getting Any Sunshine?" and "I'm Gonna Get Married," but nothing prepares you for the sprawling achievement of the Paint America Love songs: conceptually linked songs of social commentary that were roundly dismissed by critics at the time, but which stand tall against well-documented classics like What's Going On.
It's very nearly criminal that perfect songs like "Lighthouse," "Look Out the Window" and "Paint America Love" are all but totally unknown to the mainstream, but with any luck (and perhaps the lobbying by more knowing critics) that will change, and Lou Christie will be the great pop rediscovery of the 21st century. It's hard to think of a performer whose popular esteem so unevenly corresponds to his artistic achievement.
The remaining songs on the disc unfold with repeated listens, until ultimately virtually every song is seen as a gem. "The Boys Lazed on the Verandah," an inspired cover of a bizarre British pop song, is the kind of thing Morrissey strives for yet rarely attains these days, and is certainly one of the weirdest songs I consider to be a big favorite. "Life is What You Make it" and "I Got Love" shower down glorious positivity, while "Glory River" and "Indian Lady" offer more for the Lou mythos with all of its mysterious gypsies and wistful wayfaring strangers. Only the cover of the Exciters' "Tell Her" might be considered a dud, but man, if you love Lou, it's a total hoot.
The Glory River CD is out of print, but if you can find it, prepare to have your mind blown wide open like a child playing near a landmine. Minus the loss of limbs.
Review by Lyman Sargent