MUSIC REVIEW | Jerry Reed – Nashville Underground (1968)

In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “These old standards are hindered by a little too much faux earnestness and polish.”

Jerry 1
When I was a kid, Jerry Reed was the bloke who played The Snowman, the big rig driving sidekick to Burt Reynolds’ titular Bandit in The Smokey and the Bandit movies.  When I was teenager, I was impressed to discover that he didn’t only act on those movies, he also performed their awesome theme song, East Bound and Down.  Then, a few years ago, I realised how much deeper than that one song his musical career went.  It turns out, Jerry Reed is a bona fide country music legend and guitar virtuoso.  Talents that mostly go to waste on Nashville Underground.

Pretty far from the boot kickin’ country I was expecting, Remembering opens proceedings with a samba swing ballad.  It’s also Reed singing with a much smoother, more tender tone than I have ever heard in my limited experience with his music.  I associate his voice with movie saloons and road houses, not elevators.

The smooth crooning continues with A Thing Called Love.  And while Reed is much more adept at this kind of song than I ever would have thought, it’s almost like you can hear him uncomfortably holding things back.  This isn’t a range or style his voice is built for.  Jerry Reed’s voice is at its best when you can a hear a smile and wink in it.  These old standards, like You Wouldn’t Know a Good Thing, are hindered by a little too much faux earnestness and polish.

While Save Your Dreams offers a tiny injection of energy and almost fun, it’s straight back into the beige with Almost Crazy and You’ve Been Crying Again.  I have to assume that Nashville Underground is one of those albums from the era when a record label would give you a catalogue of songs they already owned, and make you record an album out of them.  Because this is not the guitar pickin’, good ol’ boy that Reed was famous for being.

Until Fine on My Mind.  It finally lets Reed’s southern twang loose, it lets a little of his guitar skills loose, and all of a sudden there’s a life and vitality to this record that was completely lacking until this point.  And the upswing continues with the story telling, knee slapping, sped up blues, honky tonk guitar of Tupelo Mississippi Flash.  It’s probably no coincidence that a song telling the story of a wannabe guitarist is such a perfect fit for Reed’s effortless charisma.
Jerry 2
There’s another little injection of that same feeling with John Henry, but it’s too little too late.  Taking some one as magnetic as Jerry Reed and making him bland and boring shouldn’t be possible.  But at least eight of Nashville Underground’s songs do just that.

Jerry Reed

2 thoughts on “MUSIC REVIEW | Jerry Reed – Nashville Underground (1968)

  1. Ah well, each to his own I guess. It’s a shame though to dismiss so much of Reed’s work because it doesn’t match what you imagined it would sound like. Ballads and experiments with varied pop and rock influences were always a major part of his output. Also, his reputation was founded in no small measure on his songwriting as well as his playing. “I have to assume that Nashville Underground is one of those albums from the era when a record label would give you a catalogue of songs they already owned …” – nope. Eight of the eleven tracks on the album are Reed originals – including You Wouldn’t Know a Good Thing. Certainly not “old standards” at the time of recording (A Thing Called Love was covered by Johnny Cash a few years later).

    Nashville Underground was recorded nearly a decade before Smokey and the Bandit; if you check out the albums from around the early ’70s on, you’ll get more of that “good ol’ boy” stuff (fair warning: the balladic material was always present). There’s a great compilation you can pick up for cheap called Guitar Man which emphasises that side of things.

    1. Thanks Craig. Great comment, always happy to hear from someone who can help me understand a musician better. Will definitely track down a copy of Guitar Man.

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