Somewhere in my heart there is a warm spot for Rick Nelson, for behind those dreamy blue eyes and subtly choreographed jaw movements (Elvis may have revised the body English dictionary for the pelvic region, but the jaw was strictly Rick’s turf), there lies someone who has glimpsed the nitty gritty of rock and roll. After all, as it has been said many times before, it was the original band of Rick Nelson that gave us the inspired guitar of James Burton. And, it was Rick Nelson who presented us with a string of hits on the Imperial label that made up in compelling honesty what they lacked in conviction and balls.
When Rick Nelson moved to the Decca label, he recorded some fine country material (Country Fever, Decca 74448). but it too was characterized by a lack of drive that the original versions had in abundance, coupled with Rick’s usual tendency for picking great musicians to back him up.
So I wasn’t too surprised when I listened to Rick’s latest album. Rick Sings Nelson, and found an enviably good band (occasionally featuring Rick on piano), some good material, and Rick’s usual vocals which are seldom bad, but are certainly not high energy, which is what goes over big nowadays. Or so I hear.
Rick Sings Nelson continues in the same progressive – country – rock styles Rick used on his last album, Rick Nelson In Concert, with an added dash of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young influence and a definite Beatlish aura. Also, as the title indicates, Rick has composed all the songs on the album himself.
How is Rick Nelson as a song writer? Well, so-so. He’s got a fine touch for softer country-rock, like “Anytime,” or “The Reason Why,” but he also dabbles in pseudo – allegorical Doorsy dreck-rock on “Mr. Dolphin,” Perhaps the latter offers us a clue as to why Rick has shied away from a funkier style — when he tries, he sounds simply awful.
The Stone Canyon Band, on the other hand, is brilliant. Rick’s backup band includes Buck Owens’ old steel guitarist, Tom Brumley and his playing tops any country – rock album since Lloyd Green’s work on the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Female voices are occasionally incorporated into the background, disarmingly and unobtrusively, and Allen Kemp is particularly tasty on lead guitar.
The album design itself is unusually attractive — a hole cut through the front fold of the cover to show the spectacularly designed label. But, not content to leave a good cover to attract the would-be purchaser of the new Rick Nelson album, the folks at Decca have included a monster blow-up poster of the photo of Rick from the inside cover, a mondo blando pose of Rick dressed in an American flag vest. Too much. Much too much.
Rick Nelson has done an admirable job in keeping up with the rapid changes in rock, making a fairly successful transition from Ricky to Rick, while still keeping a style that was distinctively Nelson. Now, much as the late Fifties, we find Rick with a great band, and he’s still got that compelling honesty to make up for what he lacks in conviction and balls.