Thursday, January 28, 2010
Music Review: B.J. Thomas - Most Of All/Billy Joe Thomas
The fourth, and final collection of B.J. Thomas’ Scepter Records catalog on Collector’s Choice contains both Most Of All (1970) and Billy Joe Thomas (1972) on one CD. The set reflects some new directions for Thomas, after the massive success of “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” in 1969.
His artistic breakthrough is represented on the previous two-fer, Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head/Everybody’s Out Of Town. Both albums were recorded in Memphis, with the redoubtable Chips Moman producing. But after recording some of the tracks that would be used on Most Of All, Moman and Thomas had a falling out. B.J. left American Studios for Studio One in Alabama, with the house band that later became famous as The Atlanta Rhythm Section.
Most Of All was then completed in New York City. Taken as a whole, the ten songs mirror the various locations they were recorded in. The album is something of a mixed bag, and did not produce any hits. But like all B.J. Thomas’ recorded works, there are some very worthwhile songs here. “Raindrops” composers Burt Bacharach-Hal David contribute “(They Long To Be) Close To You,” although it was The Carpenters who took the song to the top of the charts that year.
Another interesting choice was “Rainy Day Man,” from James Taylor, the artist's overlooked 1968 debut on Apple Records. My personal favorite is B.J.s version of “Brown Eyed Woman,” from Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill. The singer invests himself fully here, and the back-up vocals take the song into a territory largely unmatched on the rest of the record.
B.J. Thomas’ final album for Scepter is the most adventurous one he ever recorded, Billy Joe Thomas. The conceit here was to use the actual songwriters of each tune as backup vocalists on their tracks. It took some time to get all 12 cuts recorded, but the results were worth it.
The set kicks off with “That’s What Friends Are For,” written by the diminutive Paul Williams, who went on to open for Thomas in concert. Some of the other notables to appear on Billy Joe Thomas include Carole King, Jimmy Webb, Mark “Hooked On A Feeling“ James, and John Sebastian.
The hit was “Rock And Roll Lullaby,” from the great Mann-Weill team. Stevie Wonder’s “Happier Than The Morning Sun,” is another treat, as it features not only his vocals, but his inimitable harmonica playing as well.
With this collection, B.J. Thomas’ tenure at Scepter Records came to an end, with a total of nine albums released between 1966-72. Collector’s Choice have now reissued all but number three, Sings For Lovers And Losers in the following configurations:
I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry/Tomorrow Never Comes, On My Way/Young And In Love , Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head/Everybody’s Out Of Town, and this one, Most Of All/Billy Joe Thomas. Every one of these sets contains two original LPs and a number of bonus tracks on one CD.
Listening to the discs chronologically, I have found something to recommend about each and every one. For anyone looking to explore the early years of a somewhat overlooked artist, the B.J. Thomas reissues are a terrific find.