Saturday, October 6, 2012

Tommy James - Christian Of The World (1971)


Bruce Staple had the honor of engineering both Tommy James and ex-members of the Shondells for their respective Roulette solo projects (except for James' brilliant My Head, My Bed and My Red Guitar, which featured the work of Nashville's Scotty Moore). All of the solo albums by Tommy James show a sparkle and understanding of the magic that makes for great pop recordings; it is absolutely a shame he did not rival Elton John for supremacy of the charts in the '70s. "Bits and Pieces" has a riff taken straight out of Phil Spector's Crystals songbook ("Then He Kissed Me," if you must know), while "I Believe in People" is everything Motown was searching for in the '70s when they signed the Four Seasons and Lesley Gore. There is a smoothness and continuity to all of Tommy James' work, both with the Shondells and on his own. Ritchie Cordell, who almost single-handedly wrote the entire I Think We're Alone Now album, co-writes "Church St. Soul Revival" with Tommy James; it is the only one of the 13 titles not co-written with Bob King and it is absolutely brilliant. So is "Another Hill to Climb," but on another level. On the Cordell co-write, the Stephentown Singers are pure gospel, the definite sequel to "I'm Comin' Home," while the choir gives this Bob King co-write that powerful pop Melanie Safka utilized on her smash "Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)." The lyrics are overpowering; much of the sentiment is the antithesis of the psychedelic "Draggin' the Line." "Adrienne" almost seems like an ode to Tommy Roe, his "Sweet Pea" all grown up. The genius of Tommy James is that along with his perfect radio voice and ability to construct and deliver hits, he knows how to nick riffs right and left and reformulate them to suit his compact pop essays. Christian of the World is another top-notch Tommy James album; despite the two final Top 40 hits he received until he switched labels, it has not received the critical acclaim it deserves. It's extraordinary, from the opening track to "Silk Satin, Carriage Waiting." Again, Tommy James should have been battling Elton John throughout the '70s the way the Beatles and the Rolling Stones went back and forth on the charts. The world is a lesser place because these recordings did not get the additional airplay they so richly deserved. Christian of the World is a very strong argument for a four-CD Tommy James boxed set.




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