Review: The Living Room Sessions - B.J. Thomas

by Roger Wink

The musical landscape of the last decade is littered with albums by veteran artists who have rerecorded their hits in duets. Some have been adequate (Frank Sinatra, Lionel Richie) and some great (Tony Bennett). Add B.J. Thomas to the great end of the spectrum.

Thomas has rerecorded many of his hits in the past for different labels, but never like this. These are stripped down versions of his hits. No big orchestras, no fancy production, just a small group of backing musicians keeping the feel of the songs but letting the vocals pour through.

And what vocals they are. Thomas, at 70, sounds as good today as he did during his peak period of the 60's and early-70's. Listen to his version of I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry, here in a duet with Isaac Slade of the Fray. Those final notes are as crystal clear and strong as they were on the original recording from 1966.

The majority of Thomas' hits are here (although I would like to have seen Mighty Clouds of Joy) and he takes four of them on by himself, a rarity for this type of album. Included are two of my favorites, Whatever Happened to Old Fashioned Love, a number 1 country hit that deserved to do better on the pop charts, and the Burt Bacharach/Hal David song Everybody's Out of Town. On the original 1970 recording, a rather campy trumpet part was interspersed throughout the record. Here, that part remains but, in a stroke of genius, is replaced with bottleneck guitar.

Thomas' duet partners are all well chosen from relative unknowns like his Wrinkled Records label mate Etta Britt on the 1983 country chart topper New Looks From an Old Lover and actress/singer Sara Niemietz on Hooked on a Feeling to veterans Vince Gill on I Just Can't Help Believing and Richard Marx on (Hey Won't You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song.

The real joy, though, are the glorious songs and Thomas' still pristine voice which includes just a small added touch of maturity and knowledge that can only come through many years of living and working in the music industry. This is a real gem.

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