J.D. Souther – Tenderness (2015)

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J.D. Souther made an important step out of his own essential anonymity with 2011’s Natural History, reminding us of his sweeping contributions through a series of nicely contoured updates. Now, he appears ready to make a new statement.

Tenderness, J.D. Souther’s studio follow up, packs all of that earlier album’s oaken grace, its way with a lyric, its magisterial heartbreak and its sturdy fortitude. But, also, something else. Souther is joined here by stalwart collaborators Chris Walters and Jeff Coffin, on piano and sax, but also, most strikingly, a sweeping orchestral accompaniment on roughly half of nine tracks found here.

That gives new, much darker shadings to J.D. Souther’s newest explorations of love gone wrong, and love long gone. Together with Grammy-winning arranger Billy Childs, Souther frames his own work within a larger legacy of sound that stretches back to the greats in American song.

Listen to “Dance Real Slow,” as Souther combines his own familiar lyrical specificity, a verse-first songbook construction and these delicate, yet broadly cinematic strings. The same dynamics drive home standout tracks from Tenderness like “Come What May” and “Need Somebody,” even as J.D. Souther takes time to swing a bit elsewhere. He’s never written more poignant and connective lyrics, never sung them better — and both, it seems, were sparked by this ageless setting.

It might seem like folly (no matter his acknowledged successes with songs written for the Eagles, James Taylor, Roy Orbison, Linda Ronstadt and a string of country stars like George Strait and Brooks and Dunn) to link him Cole Porter and the Gershwins. It might be damning J.D. Souther with over praise. Still, the Larry Klein-produced Tenderness, due today via Sony Music Masterworks, makes the case, one gorgeous line at a time.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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