Dan Penn is one of the great songwriters. His work and his life are what legends are made of, and so is this recording. Penn wrote or co-wrote such ’60s classics as “Dark End Of The Street”, “Do Right Woman” and “I’m Your Puppet”; Nobody’s Fool, released in 1972, was his first solo record. His voice and demo recordings had been spoken about with great reverence, and he had written hits, so Bell records might have expected such a record from him. The sad truth was that it wasn’t very successful saleswise and didn’t stay in print very long.
Penn’s 1994 release on Sire Records, Do Right Man, covered the famous bases. It was a reminder and a testament to his talents and ability. That was a fine and necessary work, but Nobody’s Fool is even more interesting because it doesn’t rely on the tried and true. On this record, he stings hard with what he does best and still finds time, by the end, to walk out on the limb a bit.
Penn had a hand in writing all the material here, with the exception of John Fogerty’s “Lodi”. Penn’s reading of the Creedence classic is a natural; his incredibly soulful voice and a great arrangement make this an ideal cover choice. The title track, which opens the disc, is a loner’s anthem that sounds like a standard the first time your hear it. The great country-soul of “I Hate You” is also a stunner, with Penn’s warm voice lamenting in the first degree.
One of the mysteries of this record is why “If Love Was Money” wasn’t a massive hit. At the time this record was released, radio was eating this kind of thing up. A song that catches you big-time from the first note, it’s 3:22 long, which is about right for most great singles, but it’s never enough; it demands to be played again.
A couple of slightly self-indulgent forays in to the social concerns of the day make the end of the record seem a little overblown, but they don’t diminish the high worthiness of this work. This is an essential recording by an essential artist. They just don’t make records like this anymore, and it’s a shame.