The snow swirls around the lamp posts and even the bars have been closed for hours. It’s too cold to kill time, but killing time is all you have left. Painting that picture of desolation and near despair, Robert Rex Waller, Jr., opens his upcoming album with a version of Utah Phillips’ Walking Through the Snow In Your Town. He elevates the hobo folk song original into a country masterpiece that would send George Jones straight to the bottom of his whisky glass.
Waller’s alter ego is lead singer and songwriter for the premiere west coast country rock band I See Hawks In L.A. For this solo album he decided to focus on just the singing so it’s a record of cover songs featuring his mellifluous baritone vocals with various long-time collaborators and friends providing the instrumental highlights.
In addition to the aforementioned Phillips number, Rob does a power pop take on the Daniel Johnston tune, Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Your Grievances, that finishes with a strangled Neil Young vocal and Crazy Horse back up verse. (There’s also a nicely ponderous version of Young’s Albuquerque.) The Kink’s Waterloo Sunset gets a saloon piano treatment that’s finger-snapping fun, while The Door’s The Crystal Ship is more approachable rock and less Morrison/Manzarek mystery. The album finishes with Night Owl, a Tom Waits-style jazz piece with Waller’s cozy warmth instead of Wait’s gravel and cigarette butts.
The impetus for this record was Waller capturing some of his early influences, and as such it’s about the journey, not the destination. Some of the songs will undoubtedly capture your soul, and some may not, but I’m sure your effort (not available digitally–you’ll have to find someone to sell you a physical copy) will be richly rewarded.
About the author: I've actually driven from Tehatchapee to Tonopah. And I've seen Dallas from a DC-9 at night.