Just a real cool way to start off a Wednesday morning.Think , hanging out with friends in a dark smoke filled bar late at night listening to some sweet jazzy blues..
Robert Rex Waller, Jr.
A Joyous and Heartbreaking Collection of Favorites (July 1, 2016)
Western Seeds Record Company, Los Angeles, California—One of California’s most prolific and profound songwriters is putting his writer’s pen aside and releasing an album of covers. Fancy Free, the new solo album from Robert Rex Waller Jr., summons works from brilliant obscure artists and icons of popular music alike, taking listeners into a soundscape of exuberance, heartache, and everything in between. It’s a place where the plaintive strummings of Daniel Johnston and Mike Stinson commingle with the visionary lyricism of Neil Young and Nina Simone, and with wonderfully off-kilter romps from the Oak Ridge Boys, The Hollies, and The Doors. These are songs you know, or will instantly feel you know, rendered entirely fresh and compelling. They hit you deep, make you grin wide, and often do both at once.
Waller is best known as the lead singer and a principal songwriter of I See Hawks In L.A., the singular Americana outfit that High Times called “the house band for a revolution that isn’t over yet,” and Dave Alvin has dubbed “one of California’s unique treasures.” Over seven Hawks albums and a decade of touring, Waller’s deep voice and imaginative songwriting have reached far and wide.
Fancy Free is epic and kaleidoscopic in some whole new ways. It ranges from the sublime (The Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset” and Neil Young’s “Albuquerque”) to the delightfully bizarre (The Oak Ridge Boys’ title track). There are inventive trips to the crossroads of blues, jazz and country (Nina Simone’s “Don’t Pay ‘Em No Mind”) and some rocking throw-downs, including a propulsive take on Bob Dylan’s “She Belongs to Me,” which joins the few Dylan covers that, in their freshness and spark, truly do justice to the original.
Waller has been praised for his warm, instantly recognizable baritone, that croons and howls like Morrison on his ballsy cover of “Crystal Ship” and then swoops and soars on Cliff Edwards’ “Night Owl.” Waller’s take on Daniel Johnston’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Your Grievances” takes the original’s fragile hymn and transforms it into a punk-infused gospel stomp, with his wife Katie joining in on the harmonies.
As always, Waller surrounds himself with top-tier musicians who also know how to help arrange and deeply animate a song. Key collaborator and producer Marc Doten (The Negro Problem, Stew, Double Naught Spy Car) contributes vocal harmonies, upright bass, and playful keyboard work. Colleagues from I See Hawks in L.A.—Paul Lacques on telecaster and lap steel, and drummers Anthony Lacques and Shawn Nourse—provide ethereal twang and some serious thump. Jazz violinist Nora Germain is among several other players who add elegant flourishes. It’s only fitting that Side A closes with the piano touch of Robert Rex Waller, Sr. on an ephemeral verse of “Amazing Grace.”
Fancy Free is the latest release from the Hawks’ label, Western Seeds Record Company, and fans of Waller and the Hawks’ unique California Country will also find plenty to savor on the album, including Willie Nelson’s “Me and Paul” and Utah Phillips’ “Walking Through Your Town in the Snow.” But here, the more traditional roots are wrapped in exquisite bursts of indie rock, jazz, punk, and 70’s psychedelia, for a grand collection that surprises and delights at every turn.