Southern Nights

by: Glen Campbell

Following two excellent records made with producers Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter, Glen Campbell turned to Gary Klein for 1977's Southern Nights, a record that retains some of the feel of Rhinestone Cowboy and Bloodline but is simultaneously too streamlined and diffuse, never developing the unified sound of either of its predecessors. That hardly means it's a bad album, of course; but it does mean that it's a record of moments, individual bright spots that stand alone and never quite gel into something cohesive. Part of the problem is that the best moments have different, not necessarily complimentary, moods. There are the two big singles, Allen Toussaint's "Southern Nights" and Neil Diamond's "Sunflower," both sharing a cheerful catchiness and a bright, colorful feel. Then, there is a pair of songs from Jimmy Webb, "This Is Sarah's Song" and "Early Morning Song." While not on the level of the fine Reunion, they both offer further proof that Campbell is Webb's best interpreter. Along with a good, albeit slightly maudlin, reading of Brian Wilson's "God Only Knows," the other highlights are two songs from Michael Smotherman, a singer/songwriter who would be given a greater showcase on Campbell's next effort, Basic. Although now a forgotten songwriter, Smotherman was a solid tunesmith, firmly within the '70s sensitive singer/songwriter tradition, and his songs bring out the best in Campbell. The rest of the record -- "Guide Me," "Let Go," "How High Did We Go" -- are also from forgotten writers, and they're entirely too generic soft rock, emphasizing that Smotherman had some true skills (something that Basic confirmed). So Southern Nights is a bit of a mixed bag, but those three separate sets of highlights are excellent and help elevate the record to one of Campbell's better ones, no matter how flawed it ultimately is. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

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