CD Review: Pat Green – Songs We Wished We’d Written II (Sugar Hill, 2012)
Texas is a big place. Big enough for musical stars to develop careers that barely touch the distant lands on the state’s borders. Pat Green was born in San Antonio, raised in Waco, attended Texas Tech, played the clubs of Lubbock, self-released four albums, found a mentor in fellow-Texan Willie Nelson, toured all over the Lone Star state and developed mainstream sponsors, all before signing with Universal in 2001.His albums have cracked the Top 20, and his singles the Top 40, but he’s never become a mainstream country star. And that’s generally been to his artistic advantage. Nashville doesn’t need someone whose maturity would resist molding, and given the size of his home state audience, Green doesn’t really need Nashville.
His latest album repeats the title and theme of 2001’s Songs We Wish We’d Written, though this time he leads his crack road band without the co-piloting of Cory Morrow. Green’s given a lot of thought to the songs that inspired him, and his choice of covers says as much about him as about the songwriters he reveres. Running down selections from Joe Ely, Jon Randall, Lyle Lovett, Shelby Lynne and Tom Petty, gives listeners a sense of what you’d hear on Green’s tour bus, and songs by lesser-known writers Aaron Tasjan and Waylon Payne, include suggestions from his friends, family and band members.
The album’s best known numbers – Lovett’s “If I Had a Boat” and Petty’s “Even the Losers” – quickly remind listeners this is an album of interpretations rather than rote covers. The former’s reverential arrangement echoes the song’s impact on Green’s formation as an artist, while the latter blends Green’s love of Tom Petty with an arrangement that grows from Springsteen-styled piano-and-voice to full-blown rock ‘n’ roll howl. The Springsteen influence is heard again in the lyrical tone of Shelby Lynne’s “Jesus on a Greyhound” and likewise on Ely’s “All Just to Get to You.” Green adds some country twists to his vocal, and his guitarist’s Allman-esque slide mates well to the E-Street vibe coming off the drums, bass and organ.
The Allman’s crop up again with “Soulshine” (from 1994’s Where it All Begins), and though the song’s become more closely associated with Gov’t Mule, Greene leans more on the bluesy treatment of the former than the jam-band flavor of the latter. Green is rightly proud of his road band, and the Celtic-tinged arrangement they provide on Aaron Tasjan’s wordy folk song “Streets of Galilee” is a nice addition. The album closes with Green and fellow Texan Jack Ingram rocking with confidence on Todd Snider and Will Kimbrough’s “I Am Too.” Green’s fans will enjoy this second helping of songs he’s wished he’d written, and fans of the originals may likewise be impressed by Green’s adulatory spins on their favorites.