+1/2 -- Thomas tops the charts with Bacharach and David
hyperbolium | Earth, USA | 01/24/2010
(3 out of 5 stars)
"B.J. Thomas is often remembered for his biggest pop hits, "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," "Hooked on a Feeling," "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" and "(Hey Won't You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song." But like many artists whose careers were longer than their pop chart success, there's a lot more to Thomas' catalog than these four songs. In addition to 1980s success on the country charts, Thomas recorded albums throughout the mid-60s and 70s that turned up lower-charting hit singles and terrific album sides. Collectors' Choice has gathered Thomas' first eight solo albums for Scepter as a series of four two-fers, starting with his 1966 label debut, I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry, and concluding with 1971's Billy Joe Thomas.
By the time Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head was released in 1969 Thomas had already recorded two Top-10 hits ("I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" and "Hooked on a Feeling") and a handful of lower-charting sides. But one hit was a Hank Williams cover and the other subsequently rehomed as a #1 hit for Blue Swede, it was this album's Bacharach-David title tune that became Thomas' long-term calling card. The Bacharach-David produced "Raindrops" is a departure in sound from the records Thomas had been making with Chips Moman in Memphis. The ukulele that opens the arrangement immediately announces something different, and Thomas' delivery is softened along with horns that are Los Angeles smooth rather than Memphis punchy. Two other Bacharach-David productions, "Little Green Apples" and "This Guy's in Love With You" feature similarly sophisticated pop arrangements.
The album has three tracks produced by Chips Moman, including a cover of Mark James' "Suspicious Minds." Moman reused Elvis' backing track, but remixed in a way that turns the King into a ghost; the arrangement's extended vocal coda is a great addition. Also good is a soulful take on Jimmy Webb's "Do What You Gotta Do," and the Mark James original "Mr. Mailman." Four tracks produced by Stan Green and Scepter's A&R head Steve Tyrell fill out the song list, highlighted by a take on "The Greatest Love" that's musical but too brash to capture the vulnerability of Joe South's original or Aaron Neville's cover. The patchwork of three production teams makes this album feel more constructed than Thomas' two previous outings. There are terrific individual tracks here, but the different album sections feel stitched together and leave Thomas searching for a signature identity.
Following a greatest hits album in early 1970, Thomas returned with Everybody's Out of Town. The commercial success of "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" carried over, as he launched two more singles onto the Top 40 and found great success on the adult contemporary chart, topping it with "I Just Can't Help Believing." Bacharach and David returned to produce a pair of tracks, but their strings, horns and old-timey piano stick out like sore thumbs in sequence with Chip Moman's Memphis sound. Mark James and Wayne Carson once again contributed songs, and Thomas picked covers that fit well, even if he didn't find anything revelatory to say with "Everybody's Talkin'" or "What Does it Take." Paul Simon's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" was a great pick for the American Studios sound and Thomas sings it with soul.
Collectors' Choice adds five bonus tracks: two singles, a greatest hits album track and two previously unreleased sides. Best among these is the previously unissued country arrangement of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil's "There's No Holding You" and a horn- and organ-filled take on Little Richard's "The Girl Can't Help It." This album is a more consistent effort than the previous Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head, but Thomas no longer seemed to be progressing under Moman's direction. Like the preceding album the cover songs and some of the originals feel like album filler. All tracks are stereo, and the set's 8-page booklet includes liner notes by Mike Ragogna and full-panel full-panel reproductions of the album covers. These first-time-on-CD albums offer some of Thomas' biggest hits, supplemented by fine album tracks and filler. 3-1/2 stars, if allowed fractional ratings. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]"