Thursday, May 26, 2005

Paul Williams - Someday Man (Collector’s Choice) CD

Ten tracks spread over 28: 04 would affront some punters, even some critics. Robert Christgau considered the ratting out of albums falling under the half-hour-that-stretches a high public service, but can an artist really be that scrupulous in weighing the clay? Its’ not like lying about the casualty count in Iraq or the public getting stiffed five fewer Cheetos in a sixteen-oz. bag.

It’s also not like each of the twenty-eight minutes don’t contain a revelation or two. Commended to me by LITG co-editor Kim Cooper as “the adult counterpart to the Partridge Family album you reviewed for the book,” 1972’s Sound Magazine is indeed a fair prequel to Paul Williams’ 1970 solo debut, with David Cassidy’s noble-teen romanticism and eagerness to embrace joy and disappointment a fine match for Williams’ gentle cynicism and worldly mature sigh. What might strike 21st century listeners with particular intensity is the unforced, un-ironic optimism of the record. Yes, it’s a period piece.

Williams had been hanging around Hollywood for some time, appearing in films like The Loved One (1964) and The Chase (1966) as well as standing in line at the now-famous open audition for The Monkees. An eponymous 1968 album recorded with The Holy Mackerel was a thing of delicate beauty lost in the general apocalypse of that weirdest of years. A contractual obligation to Reprise for another record sent Williams into the studio with songwriting partner Roger Nichols and a cast of L.A. session bravoes. Two (Hal Blaine and Larry Knechtel) would later turn up on Sound Magazine

The album is a young man’s reverie. “Someday Man” finds Paul at the outset gently cursing his luck for being born among so many human grinds and ciphers, with “So Many People” reiterating the point with wistful insistence. There’s a fine edge of insecurity in “She’s Too Good to Me” and “Trust” coming from a romantic disappointed, but unbowed. “To Put Up With You” is Dylan’s “Positively Fourth Street” as done by a member of the human race, with Paul’s courtly dismissal to an insufferable one as sweet and civilized as Bob’s rant is boorish and hammy. “Do You Have a Heart” is reminder of the daily utility and necessity of love itself. Underneath the whole is an assumption that the human heart is not merely a poorly-designed personal-use pump for circulating antifreeze.

The drama is muted and the pathos as frail a snowflake’s shadow, but the overarching mood of saturnine ease in the midst of bustling horror is something the next generation of L.A. singer-songwriters would repeatedly maul. The album went nowhere, Williams/Nichols would shortly place hit after hit for the likes of Streisand and The Carpenters and the world’s rolled a few more times over the leonine heart of the diminutive Mr. Williams. He’s still up and buoyant and worth more to L.A. than a herd of Bukowskis.

-Ron Garmon

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