Light In The Attic Records / 2010
A lot of albums come with bizarre backstories about in-fighting, debauchery, drugs… even death. But this one's a real doozy.
Malibu club favorite and man-about-Hollywood (he even had a cameo in "Easy Rider") Jim Sullivan records U.F.O. in 1969 while backed by Phil Spector's legendary Wrecking Crew of top studio musicians. The album thwarts people's expectations of singer-songwriter folk-rock, and instead features sweeping orchestral arrangements and tunes too dark to jibe with the sunny Southern California vibe. The album tanks. Sullivan records another record a few years later, also without commercial success.
Then one fateful day, he sets out on a cross-country road trip… gets as far as New Mexico… and disappears… forever. Killed by rednecks? Hippies? Aliens? All we can do is speculate and, in the meantime, enjoy this fine reissue. It's not without flaws, but the rewards are surprisingly plentiful.
"Jerome" and "Plain As Your Eyes Can See" feel painfully over-produced, with Sullivan's warm voice competing with strings… and losing. This is where the legendary Wall of Sound becomes the annoying Wall of Saccharine Sludge. But on "Roll Back The Time," the proceedings sound more comfortable, more stripped-down.
"Rosey" re-introduces the string section, but this time with the texture, depth, and epic quality of Jimmy Webb's best stuff or Marty Robbins' "El Paso."
"Highways" and the title song are string-heavy too — even with reverb flute on "U.F.O."! But both are so pretty, any lapses in judgment with the arrangements are forgiven. "So Natural" is a winner too, and a great showcase for Sullivan's natural vocal talents. Of special note is the outstanding organ work on this piece.
But the real winner is "Sandman." This uptempo charmer sounds like the best of Dan Hicks, Chris Smither, John Prine and a slew of other treasured talents with whom Sullivan could have been a contender. If only…