First there was his rock n' roll period, then brief flings with Bakersfield country and pop-psych, then a decent run of more or less successful country rock albums from '70 to '74, peaking with the hit Garden Party, then a brief hiatus.
Could have been his personal life, or diminishing returns, but Intakes in '77 tried a different image in the hopes of a comeback, but it never happened. The album stiffed, and the follow-up, already recorded, was shelved. This version has the outtakes, plus also.
The Memphis Sessions have (has?) over the years limped out in various forms, but this is, I hope, the "compleat" version. A return to his rockabilly roots (the album was going to be called Rockabilly Renaissance), it was recorded by a shit-hot band in a funky little Memphis studio, and it's as great as you'd expect. Hard to say if it would have been the shot in the arm his career needed in '78, but I doubt it.
But the music stayed real. He always had a quietly genius band behind him, and his taste in songs never failed. The Al Kooper-produced Return To Vienna was never, as far as I know, officially released, but its slightly harder rock band edge is nicely judged. Its non-release, after the aborted Rockabilly Renaissance, must have come as a crushing blow. A split with his label, Epic, was inevitable.
He was struggling with the musical changes of the time, as were all
veteran performers, but he never quite got the image right. The skinny
ties, gold bomber jackets, and coiffed hair were hopelessly
dated and un-hip. But he found a home at Capitol for what was to be the last album issued in his lifetime.
See what I mean? In 1981, this was never going to fly. His Ricky fanbase remained loyal, but heartland rock fans, the Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seeger audience he needed to win over, were never going to be seen dead grabbing this from the racks. Dude needed a beard and a plaid shirt. And a smile wouldn't have hurt.
Their loss, Rick's loss, our loss. There's not a track on any of these albums that's not, in the man's quiet way, beautiful. We can ignore the crossover market forces so important at the time, we can forget about the wardrobe wreckage. The thing is, you only have to cue up the first track of any of these albums to get hooked. They play themselves. So many artists and albums I click out of a few songs in, but these ... I want to hear them all the way through. Often ignored or sidelined, they're as good as anything he cut. Late Rick is great Rick.