Rick Sings Nelson, Rick Nelson’s first studio album with the pioneering Stone Canyon Band, really does deserve the reputation of “stone-cold classic”. Expanding tenfold upon the razor-sharp music and harmonies of the Stone Canyon’s debut record, In Concert, Rick Sings Nelson was actually the singer’s first album of wholly original material (hence the title). It’s unbelievable that it took him this long start laying his songs on the public like this, because they’re pretty great, and certainly miles above lots of the crud he had been running through for the preceding decade or so of his career.
One of the principal strengths of Rick Sings Nelson is that, though brimming with Southern California pop, it never strays too far from earthier roots. Former Buckaroo Tom Brumley proves to be one of the band’s strongest assets in this regard, always anchoring the music in Bakersfield country whether he’s laying down weeping leads on “Anytime” or conjuring up rolling rhythm figures on “Sweet Mary”. The layered interplay between him and Stone Canyon guitarist Allen Kemp really reaches some soaring highs here, and though they were never really given all that much room to stretch out and jam in the studio Brumley has been quoted as saying that his years spent in the Stone Canyon Band were the most enjoyable of his career.
If there’s any clunker on Rick Sings Nelson it’s in “Mister Dolphin,” which illustrates Nelson’s penchant for writing the occasional awful song. Any cut opening with the line “I just talked to a dolphin the other day” is going to be a little hard to take, and when said dolphin tells Rick sagely to “open up your mind” and love everyone, well…let’s just say that if he had really been dead set on including a cosmic dolphin song here he may have been better served cutting Fred Neil’s folk-rock standard “Searching For the Dolphins” and leaving things at that (or hell, throw us a studio recording of one of those beauties off In Concert like “Easy To Be Free” and keep the album title intact).
All things considered though, Rick Sings Nelson remains a landmark collection in the history of country rock, and even though it failed to offer up any hit single it’s loaded down with memorable songs. The record has been reissued by Beat Goes On Records alongside it’s follow-up, Rudy the Fifth, which is best known for its pair of Dylan covers, but which also includes many other Nelson-penned jewels.