It would be damn near impossible to exaggerate how excited I am that this album has appeared on CD. Originally released as Lou Christie in 1974 on Three Brothers Records (a subsidiary of Creed Taylor's CTI label), Lou Christie's country album is almost as great a masterpiece as Paint America Love. Beautifully sung, passionately performed, brilliantly arranged, and tastefully chosen, these songs may have left Nashville shaking their heads ("That ain't country!") but nevertheless they comprise an album leagues beyond 99% of Nashville's output of albums.
Country is not a genre served especially well by the album format, and the only artists who have been able to sustain totally interesting albums in the country field have been either pop stars "going country" (a la Nancy Sinatra) or those artists who were boundary-pushers to begin with (Johnny Cash, Buck Owens, Willie Nelson).
After the commercial failure of Paint America Love, Lou must have done some soul-searching and it shows in the highly committed performances of Lou Christie. (The album has been retitled, sort of, for its CD release the cover art duplicates the original LP cover but adds "Beyond the Blue Horizon/Hey You Cajun" as a title.)
Produced and arranged by Tony Romeo (the late songwriter and producer to whom the CD issue is also dedicated), the album is a beautiful collection of songs very much in the Americana vein of Paint America Love but more personal, less global in their philosophical approach. It can almost be considered a companion album to Paint America Love, as it is a marvel of simplicity where the previous album was a complex concept album.
Lou tears through a mix of Tony Romeo originals, pop standards, and a sole Lou-Twyla original ("Hey You Cajun"). Nearly every cut is a highlight, from the aching "Saddle the Wind" (as close to a Lou theme song as there could ever be, in my opinion), through the majestic "Beyond the Blue Horizon" (the song that turned me onto Lou when I heard it on the Rain Man soundtrack) to the glorious, understated album closer, "Morning Rider."
In between, there's the Appalachian bluegrass nostalgia piece "Wilma Lee and Stoney," Tony Romeo's beautiful "Blue Canadian Rocky Dream" (if you want a laugh, listen to this and then listen to Richard Harris's original version on the Tony Romeo-produced Slides album Lou's is incredible, Richard's is laughable), the zip of "Good Mornin'/Zip-a-Dee Doo-Dah," the backwoods swagger of "Hey You Cajun" (an important song in the Lou mythos), plus my favorite version of the otherwise tired "Mack the Knife" (which fetaures nearly the same arrangement as "Beyond the Blue Horizon," which in turn borrows its arrangement from Mike Nesmith's First National Band version).
It's a fantastic ride, as Lou takes us on a musical/historical journey through vistas and sound-worlds that are now long gone through the flatpickin' Appalachians to the sweeping beauty of Vancouver, down through Louisiana, onto "Sunbeam" and "Beyond the Blue Horizon." It's almost a concept album of the alternate American Dream of chucking it all in and setting up shop in the woods I imagine it's the perfect album for waking up at 5:30am and splitting logs with crisp, piney air filling your lungs much different from my usual routine of rolling out of bed at 11:30 and coughing out the last of the previous night's doughnut hole binge. (?)
But in all seriousness, it's one of the few albums that totally disarms my cynicism and inspires me toward genuine optimism. It begins with a "dream to see the world" and ends with "I found a home" knock it down if you will, but the album is bigger and better than you are, punk.
The CD issue adds four bonus tracks: "Little Bit of God" (reminiscent of Lou's Buddah sound), "Wheel of Fortune" (great outtake, features some synths that threaten to take over but never do), Tony Romeo's "There'll Never Be (A We Like You and Me)" (very pretty perfect for a wedding song if you're having the coolest wedding ever staged), and the hauntingly beautiful ballad "Two Little Clouds Passing By." The bonus tracks do the album proud.
I can't be more pleased with Varese Vintage's issue it's perfect, exactly as I imagined it could be but never thought it would be. This has been very high on my short list of 5 albums I'd love to see on CD, and now it's in my hands and in the words of Common's Pop, "I'm so proud."
Hands down, this is the best, most genuinely important reissue of the year. It's an excellent testament to Lou Christie as a serious, neglected artist, and to Tony Romeo as a great, neglected producer.
Review by Timothy Bowser