More Songs by Ricky/Rick Is 21

by: Rick Nelson

History has shown time again that the great disadvantage to being a teen idol is you can only be one for so long, and a combination of changing tastes and a growing maturity was putting a damper on Ricky Nelson's career as the '50s made way for the '60s. This two-fer from Hoo Doo Records captures Nelson in the midst of a transitional phase: 1960's More Songs by Ricky found him rocking less and swinging more, tackling a handful of old standards and poppier numbers, with his rockabilly influences pushed outside the frame for the time being. The uptempo numbers, like "Ain't Nothin' But Love" and "Make Believe," feature overly bright vocal choruses and horns, while "Baby, Won't You Please Come Home" sounds a bit like supper club blues and "I'm Not Afraid" and "Again" are high-gloss romantic numbers. Only "Hey Pretty Baby" recalls the sound of Nelson's early hits, and while his vocals are expert regardless of the context, this album suggests Ricky and his handlers were imagining the possibility of a post-rock & roll career for him. As it happened, Nelson had better ideas; 1961's Rick Is 21 made it clear he was an authentic adult who could drink and vote and drop the Y from the end of his first name, but while there are plenty of tunes that focus on more mature themes and styles (including covers of "Stars Fell on Alabama" and "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans"), the rockers are considerably tougher, more streamlined, and polished than his first hits but with more than enough swagger to pass muster, and Nelson sounds more at home on "Break My Chain" or "I'll Make Believe" than anything on More Songs from Ricky. Nelson's belief in rock & roll paid off, too, as "Hello, Mary Lou" became a major hit for him. Hoo Doo's reissue boasts crisp audio, well-written liner notes, musicians' credits, and six bonus tracks; one of these two albums is a more satisfying listen than the other, but this release offers a well-considered look at Nelson at the dawn of the '60s, and it's done with commendable skill and enthusiasm for its subject. ~ Mark Deming

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