Published on Thursday, April 2, 1998
1998 The Arizona Republic

Byline: Barry Gilbert




"Lone Wolf"
Jerry Jeff Walker (Elektra)

"Desire Road"
Bob Woodruff (Imprint)

"Poison Love"
Buddy Miller (HighTone)


New York...

The Empire State gave us the Yankees and the Giants, the Rangers and the Knicks. And to make up for it, it sent us some fine country music. Yes, New York.

Jerry Jeff Walker, a veteran troubadour, was born Ronald Clyde Crosby in Oneonta, N.Y., in 1942. He had already had an FM hit, "The Wind," with Circus Maximus before spending a night in a New Orleans jail. That experience became "Mr. Bojangles."

After a stop in Florida, which produced "Railroad Lady," co-written with Jimmy Buffett, Walker landed in Austin, where he was a fixture even before Willie Nelson hit town.

"Lone Wolf: The Best of Jerry Jeff Walker (Elektra Sessions)" culls 14 tracks from his two albums on that label, from 1978 and 1979, a period between Walker's best-known incarnations -- the raving, boogie-till-you-drop hippie cowboy and the cleaned-up family man with his own label and a TV show.

The bookend tunes of this collection really tell the story: Lee Clayton's "Lone Wolf" and Rodney Crowell's "Ain't Living Long Like This," which Walker has said wasn't so far from the truth.

Also telling is that only one song, "Her Good Lovin' Grace," was written by Walker, whose muse would emerge recharged a few years later. Not Walker's best-known -- or best -- material, but pure Jerry Jeff nonetheless.

Bob Woodruff remembers seeing Walker playing in clubs in New York's Greenwich Village before Woodruff grew up and took his hopes to Nashville. He scored big time in 1994 with the major-label "Dreams and Saturday Nights."

Woodruff's second album, "Desire Road," on the independent Imprint Records, boasts players ranging from guitar virtuoso James Burton (Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis) to bassist Garry Tallent (Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band) to fiddler Sam Bush (Emmylou Harris). And if it doesn't slam your head back like "Dreams" did, it's only because "Dreams" was such a refreshing blast.

Most artists who write as well as Woodruff wouldn't open their sophomore effort with a cover, but John Fogerty's "Almost Saturday Night" fits. For Woodruff, Saturday night is a time of desperation.

Buddy Miller's songs come from that place where mountain music meets hard-core honky-tonk. But Miller, a fine guitarist who has played in Emmylou Harris' Spyboy band, started out playing everything from bluegrass to psychedelia in bands in New York and New Jersey.

For "Poison Love," his second HighTone album, Miller and his wife, Julie, wrote tough, dense songs of loss and longing.

In addition to the Miller originals, Buddy spices the stew with a killer duet with Steve Earle on "Poison Love," adds Emmylou's voice and band to six tracks, and unleashes a bravura take on Otis Redding's "That's How Strong My Love Is."

This isn't alt-country revisionism. This is seductive, even sensuous, no-apologies honky-tonk.