Jerry Reed – Unbelievable Guitar/Nashville Underground (review)

Jerry Reed – The Unbelievable Guitar & Voice of Jerry Reed / Nashville Underground (Real Gone Music / Sony Music Entertainment) review

The first two albums from the man that later starred in Smokey & the Bandit.

For all of Jerry Reed’s accomplishments – singer, songwriter, actor – his guitar playing sometimes get forgotten.  Yet, Chet Atkins, who many think is the greatest of all-time, said once that Reed was even better than him.  The Unbelievable Guitar & Voice of Jerry Reed / Nashville Underground collects Reed’s first two solo albums for the first time on CD.

His debut featured several of his most-famous compositions, including the semi-autobiographical “Guitar Man,” which became a hit for Elvis Presley (with Reed on guitar on that version as well), and “US Male,” (another Presley hit).  But, his record company (RCA), was in a quandary of what to do with this promising artist’s career.  The album jumps between the smart-ass talking songs like “Woman Shy,”  to the more middle of the road, balladeer style, which was far more common in the country music of the day (songs like “If It Comes to That,” and “You’re Young”). The problem is, the two styles really don’t mix, making for an uneven listen.  In fact, they sound like two completely different singers.

When it’s good, it’s really good, as in “Take a Walk,” where he threatens to “make some changes in your face” to the guy who won’t leave his woman alone.  Problem is, you’d wish there was more “unbelievable guitar” and less “voice” on many of these tracks.

RCA realized that trying to market these two vastly different styles was a mistake.  Unfortunately, they chose the wrong style.  Nashville Underground is all ballads with almost no “unbelievable guitar.” While tracks like “Remembering” and the bluesy “Almost Crazy” aren’t particularly bad, they’re just not Reed’s strong point.  “Tupelo Mississippi Flash” is a blatant rewrite of “Guitar Man,” and his Ray Charles cover “Hallelujah I Love Her So” is okay. The final track, “John Henry,” allows Reed to finally whip out his guitar and wail.

Of course, Reed would go on to bigger and better things.  And, his patented, smart-ass delivery, which is what he was good at, returned as well.  This collection does show off an underrated talent’s beginnings.  –Tony Peters