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Review: Perry Como, “Just Out of Reach: Rarities from Nashville Produced by Chet Atkins”

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Perry Como - Just Out of Reach“Hey, let’s do it again and again,” invited Perry Como on the bouncy opening track of 1975’s Just Out of Reach.  The Tony Hatch/Jackie Trent song, previously recorded by singer-actor Jim Dale on This is Me, was perfectly suited to Como’s warm, soothing tones.  Who wouldn’t take him up on the offer to do it again and again?  As the musical landscape of the 1960s and 1970s drastically shifted, the one-time big band “boy singer” wasn’t quite as ubiquitous a presence as he once was. Still, the crooner continued to notch surprising hits: 1965’s Top 30 Pop/Top 5 AC “Dream On Little Dreamer,” 1970’s Top 10 Pop/No. 1 AC “It’s Impossible,” 1973’s Top 30 Pop/No. 1 AC “And I Love You So.”  Both “Dream On Little Dreamer” and “And I Love You So” teamed Como with Nashville legend Chet Atkins as producer.  The Atkins sessions breathed new life into Como’s career and repertoire, so further dates in Nashville were inevitable.  This period of Como’s long RCA Records career is anthologized on Real Gone Music’s new Just Out of Reach – Rarities from Nashville Produced by Chet Atkins (RGM-0191, 2013).  The core of this very welcome release is the never-before-on-CD album Just Out of Reach (1975), but it’s joined by other pop-meets-country productions helmed by Atkins for Como in 1973 and 1975.  Five of these are non-LP singles, two are Spanish language tracks making their American debuts, and six are previously unreleased anywhere.  It adds up to an absorbing and nostalgic trip with two of RCA’s premiere artists.

“Let’s Do It Again” came all the way from London.  But despite the album’s title, stylistic versatility was certainly not Just Out of Reach for the 63-year old vocalist.  None of the material was too radical for so-called MOR audiences of the day, but all of these tunes were treated with respect and supreme confidence by Como.  Though Atkins produced the Nashville sessions, he didn’t play on them.  Instead, Como was supported by “Nashville” David Briggs and Randy Goodrum on piano; Beegie Cruser on electric piano; Mike Leech and Henry Strzelecki on bass; Larrie London, Kenny Malone and Buddy Harman on drums; John Christopher, Paul Yandell and Bobby Thompson on rhythm guitar; and Reggie Young, Pete Wade and Grady Martin on electric guitar.

Como’s voice is tailor-made for familiar ballads like John D. Loudermilk’s “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye” and Lennon and McCartney’s “Here, There and Everywhere.”  But the latter surprises when it cuts through the Nashville Sound with a brief electric guitar solo. Ben Peters’ “Let It Be Love” is more squarely in that traditional vein.  Its loping melody is brought to life with tinkling piano and tasteful guitar licks plus cooing, prominent background vocals supported by gentle orchestration.  Peters’ “Love Put a Song in My Heart” is in a more AM pop bag.  Como is playful on Porter Jordan and Bob Duncan’s “Let Me Call You Baby Tonight” but at his interpretive best with Kris Kristofferson’s “Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again).”  The sensibilities of the older and younger generations found common ground on Como’s pretty but also deeply affecting reading of the sad, reflective lyric.

“The Grass Keeps Right On Growin’,” written by Gloria Shayne of “Do You Hear What I Hear” fame, is one of the more unusual tracks here, veering between dramatic, string-drenched verses and an up-tempo chorus.  James Stein’s “Make Love to Life” isn’t the strongest song on Just Out of Reach, but its sing-along quality fit the “Magic Moments” and “Hot Diggity Dog” singer like a glove.  And Como makes the title track, popularized by soul great Solomon Burke, his own.

After the jump, we’ll look at Como and Atkins’ outtakes and more!

The outtakes here are expectedly illuminating.  Recorded for Just Out of Reach but left on the shelf, Judy Henske and Craig Doerge’s “Yellow Beach Umbrella” was later recorded by Bette Midler, Andy Williams and Three Dog Night; it’s a quirky composition, for sure, but Como dials down any camp as he winks at its non-conformist attitude.  Three tracks have been salvaged from the sessions for And I Love You So, an album which deserves the Real Gone treatment in its own right.  Ronald McCown’s “Take a Look at Me” is a pop ballad with a spiritual lyric and the melodic flavor of The Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There” crossed with Rod McKuen’s “Love’s Been Good to Me.”  Como is in wistfully reflective mode, swathed in strings, on “It Was Such a Good Day” from troubled “You Light Up My Life” tunesmith Joe Brooks.  (Debby Boone performed this song on her 1978 album Midstream.)  From the August 1973 sessions that produced the single “Walk Right Back” b/w “Love Don’t Care (Where It Grows),” both sides of which are included here, compilation producers Jim Pierson and Matthew Long have also unearthed “I’ll Take My Chances with You” and “Somehow.”  The latter, written by Johnny Mandel with Alan and Marilyn Bergman for the film Molly and Lawless John, is a sublime piece of adult pop that deserves to be better-known.

The non-LP singles are choice, too.  “Love Looks So Good on You” was the B-side of the Don McLean composition “And I Love You So.”  It stands apart for the brassy horn arrangement adorning its shifting melody.  Tupper Saussy’s “Love Don’t Care (Where It Grows)” is a too-close-for-comfort ringer for McLean’s hit song.  Perry’s take on the Sonny Curtis-penned “Walk Right Back,” a 1961 hit for The Everly Brothers, captures the song’s ironically jaunty tone.  A return to the Don McLean songbook yielded “Wonderful Baby,” with some fine Nashville guitar picking and a light, relaxed performance from Perry.  The Spanish language singles of “And I Love You So” and “I Want to Give” are enjoyable curiosities,  proving that Como could be sublimely soothing in any language.

Just Out of Reach includes fine, copious liner notes from James Ritz and wonderful sound courtesy of Tim Sturges at Battery Studios.  Perry Como continued to record for RCA all the way through 1987’s Today, on which he deftly tackled songs by Michael Masser and Gerry Goffin (“Tonight I Celebrate My Love for You”), Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager (“That’s What Friends are For”) and Jerry Herman (“The Best of Times,” from La Cage Aux Folles).  Wouldn’t it be nice to see Real Gone return to revisit Como’s later years in similarly expanded editions?  With any luck, future reissues won’t be just out of reach.

You can order Perry Como’s Just Out of Reach at Amazon U.S. and Amazon U.K.!

Written by Joe Marchese

October 31, 2013 at 12:56

Posted in Chet Atkins, Perry Como, Reissues, Reviews

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