Growing Old With Rock and Roll

Growing Old With Rock and Roll

Monday, July 2, 2018

David Allan Coe - Compass Point (1979)

Written by Jason Hillenburg, posted by blog admin

Though the 1980’s will prove to be a challenge on a multitude of fronts for David Allan Coe, he ends the 1970’s with two strong studio releases. 1979’s Compass Point, the first of two albums released that year is produced by legendary Nashville booth wizard Billy Sherrill and has a thoroughly modern sound for its time. It finds Coe mining the same traditional/”outlaw” vein of bluesy country music he is renowned for during the album's first half. The ten song collection isn’t uniformly excellent, but concludes Coe’s arguably peak years on a generally consistent note and reaffirms his position as one of his generation’s finest vocalists and an occasionally inspired songwriter.

“Heads or Tails” may leave you torn. On one hand, you will likely enjoy the bluesy mid-tempo pace, the gritty harmonica, and on point guitar work. There isn’t a hint of self indulgence weighing the song or performance down, but there is a cookie cutter quality to the songwriting, a sense of Coe hitting his marks and nothing more. It sounds like a cut aimed for radio and, as such, it dampens the track’s potential. It’s a solid, if unremarkable, opener. “3 Time Loser”, another Coe penned number, is much better in every respect. The satisfying vocal melody has enough uplift to mitigate Coe’s serious subject matter and it’s further to his songwriting credit that Coe refrains from leaning too heavily on clichés. The song’s personal turn makes it a more compelling listen.

Harmonica returns for “Gone (Like)”, the closest thing to a classic country ballad thus far on Compass Point, and mixes nicely with some haunting pedal steel fills. Coe’s songwriting, once again, focuses on affairs of the heart with a sensitive, rueful eye. It’s clearly considered as one of Compass Point’s major songs with a six minute plus running time and proves worth each second. “Honey Don’t” is a kick out the footlights barnburner with lightning quick harmonica salvos spiking the track with bluesy flavor, but it’s ultimately a throwaway number not offering anything particularly new. Coe opens “Lost” like he’s about to take another whack at traditional country balladry, but the song unfortunately bandwagon jumps and cops a quasi-Jimmy Buffet feel with the remainder. He lived in the Key West area for a time and publicly feuded with Buffett but, ultimately, who cares? It isn’t excruciating, but ill-advised.

He retains some of the sunny bounce for the next song, “Merle and Me”, an entry in Coe's tradition of storytelling song.. It's one of the album's better lyrics and Coe gives us a typically strong vocal, but the tune and arrangement are mismatched and it never quite sinks its teeth into listeners. The album’s penultimate tune “X’s and O’s (Kisses and Hugs)” is a rousing track late in the album and Coe throws himself into the song with a slight rambunctious edge that kicks the song up several notches. The guitar playing stands out, as well, with a tasty instrumental break near the song’s halfway point. The finale “Loving You Comes So Natural” is the only Compass Point song not produced by Billy Sherrill and the sole track Coe doesn’t write alone. There’s a bevy of guitar players worked into this tune, at least five too many, but it’s an inoffensive final curtain – albeit one that shares much more in common with the album’s second half than it does the first. Compass Point has genuine highlights, particularly “3 Time Loser” and “Gone (Like)”, but Coe mars the overall effect with some uncharacteristic chasing the fashion of the moment in the second half.

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