Friday, November 18, 2011

Joe Walsh - The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get

What I’m about to tell you requires some faith.

You see, there’s over thirty-years of bad creative decisions in Joe Walsh’s baggage. And if “bad creative decisions” is too harsh a word, then feel free to replace it with “lazy,” “dumb-down,” or “I fuckin’ hate the Eagles, man!”

Let me try to convince you to take a look at Walsh’s earlier work, not just with my beloved James Gang, but also in Joe’s first forays into solo work. I think it’s his lackluster later efforts, and yes, his involvement with the Eagles that cause us to overlook those early records.

The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get was a solo album by name only, as the performers with Joe were under the impression that they’d get equal billing as a band unit-Barnstormer-but before its release, the album would be presented under the Walsh banner.

As a result, this is the only Walsh solo album that incorporates a wider pallet of genres to work with. Thanks to his equal footing peers, The Smoker You Drink shows Walsh rising to the challenge of his talented bandmates. His guitar work was heightened, his lyrics compelling, and his decision to leave a perfectly good James Gang seemed sound.

The album is best known for its opener, “Rocky Mountain Way,” an ode to his new abode-a mountain community that was closer to his friend and producer Bill Szymczyk. Walsh’s power chords are epic, but it’s his talkbox solo that seals this track into the upper echelon of rock cuts.

It also means that the rest of the album suffers from such a strong opener in the sense that, even though they’re really good, they’re nowhere near the level of “Rocky Mountain Way.”

They avoid trying to compete with it and instead focus on the aforementioned pallet cleanse by incorporating things like progressive (“Days Gone By”), folk (“Happy Ways”) and even a bit of Beatlemania (“Meadows” “Book Ends”) into their repertoire.

It’s marvelous, and it’s unfortunately overlooked.

My dad had this on 8 track when I was a kid. The tape broke-as most 8-tracks eventually do-and it was never replaced until I purchased it recently. It’d been well over three decades since I’ve heard this record, but the moment I re-examined it was the moment that all of Walsh’s bad decisions since that album fell away into sudden tolerance.

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