John Sebastian’s new album opens with “The Red-Eye Express,” a great burst of enthusiasm that immediately brings back all those wonderful bits of style and wisdom that brought so much joy a few years ago. “Hurry up, Lorey/ Hurry up, Sue/ We can’t hardly wait for you/Starving for your love, it’s true.” Sebastian’s marvelously rich voice slides all over the lines of the song, and his warm harp edges in a bit later on as an extra delight. The man who wrote the best song about rock and roll ever is making music again.
He has famous friends along to help—Dallas Taylor, David Crosby, Steve Stills, Bruce Langhorne, to name a few—they never sound like guest stars, but merge into a solid framework, supporting whatever Sebastian brings to each cut. It’s his show, good or bad.
The album is by no means completely successful. Most of the songs, even some of the best ones, lack tension and flair, as if they’d been worked out with such care that the final takes were absolutely perfect in terms of their execution but somewhat stiff in spirit. “Rainbows All Over Your Blue” and “Baby, Don’t Ya Get Crazy,” two good songs, suffer from this sort of vaguely forced enthusiasm. There are other numbers, notably “Magical Connection,” a Sergio Mendes bore with vibes, that simply doesn’t make it at all. Two cuts, “The Room Nobody Lives In” and “I Had A Dream,” are plain old schmaltz—bad movie music with, on the latter, a harp (not harmonica). “Room” even has more or less the same melody as Frank Sinatra’s “All the Way.” Here, as in most soundtrack music, sentiment does not evoke lasting emotion, and prettiness falls far short of beauty.
Sebastian sang “How Have You Been” (“My darling children/While I have been away in the west”) at Woodstock, and it seems just as insufferable now as it did then. The idea is lovely, the result extremely pretentious, and the performance almost maudlin. It’s a Paul Simon trip that Paul Simon has had the good sense to avoid.
All of this granted, the album has proof that Sebastian’s talents are still with him; “What She Thinks About,” a crashing, explosive rock and roll song, stands out from this record the way Boz Scaggs’ “Dime-a-Dance Romance” did on Steve Miller’s Sailor. This is what you can’t tell a stranger about. It has all the expertise of the hard rock we get from the Band, with a special lift from Sebastian’s own sense of the music: “Well, you say you been around and you got it all together and you’re diggin’ where it’s at and you really feel groovy/Well, that’s not quite true but nice to meet you…” You can say it all if you get the sound right.
It’s a good album, mostly, and in places really exciting. But it could have been a lot better, and hopefully, the enormous popularity this one will have won’t see Sebastian resting on his laurels next time he enters the studio.
Rolling Stone, April 16, 1970