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Reissue CDs Weekly: Jim Sullivan | reviews, news & interviews

Reissue CDs Weekly: Jim Sullivan

Reissue CDs Weekly: Jim Sullivan

Revealed: what came before and after the belatedly lauded ‘U.F.O.’ album

Jim Sullivan – sadly not around to take in the acclaim which has come his wayCourtesy of the Jim Sullivan Estate

Hugh Hefner established Playboy Records in 1972 as an arm of his male-targeted business empire. Amongst the singles issued in its first year were seven-inchers by jazzer Bobby Scott, proto-yacht rockers The Hudson Brothers, singer-songwriter Tim Rose, Björn & Benny (with Svenska Flicka), who were ABBA before they had a name, and Michael Jarrett, who’d written “I'm Leavin'” for Elvis Presley.

Hugh Hefner established Playboy Records in 1972 as an arm of his male-targeted business empire. Amongst the singles issued in its first year were seven-inchers by jazzer Bobby Scott, proto-yacht rockers The Hudson Brothers, singer-songwriter Tim Rose, Björn & Benny (with Svenska Flicka), who were ABBA before they had a name, and Michael Jarrett, who’d written “I'm Leavin'” for Elvis Presley. In 1974, Playboy Playmate Barbi Benton came on board.

Other notables included country staple Mickey Gilley, soul star Major Lance, soft rockers Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds and, late in the imprint’s day, powerpoppers Blue Ash. Beserkley Records, Jonathan Richman’s home, had a business tie-in with Playboy Records. In this eclectic and mostly hit-free grab-bag, an eponymous 1972 album by LA-based singer-songwriter Jim Sullivan attracted little attention.

Jim Sullivan_Playboy albumProbably, Jim Sullivan would have remained unnoticed without the 2010 reissue of Sullivan’s only other album, 1969’s U.F.O. – originally issued by the private Monnie label and then re-released the next year by Century City Records, an offshoot of a private equity company. U.F.O. barely had a profile when it first escaped but its reappearance exposed it as a sit-up, take-notice album. Sullivan was belatedly revealed to be a moody, country influenced singer-songwriter with a bent for mystical lyrics. While in the (very early) Kris Kristofferson, John Hartford and Val Stoecklein bag he had his own, affectingly downbeat voice.

Interest was further piqued by learning Sullivan disappeared three years after the Playboy album. He had set off from Los Angeles on 4 March 1975 for Tennessee on an expedition designed to find out whether Nashville would be receptive to his music. His abandoned car was impounded on 8 March, after being found on a New Mexico ranch 23 miles from the nearest main road. His belongings were left in the car and at a motel in Santa Rosa. He was never seen again.

Speculation about Sullivan’s fate continues but U.F.O. was hard evidence that he was worth paying attention to. Now, Jim Sullivan (the Playboy album) has been reissued. It is accompanied by If the Evening Were Dawn, a collection of demo recordings taped in 1969. U.F.O. has been given a musical before and after.

Jim Sullivan_If The Evening Were DawnOne thing is immediately clear. Sullivan’s music existed in a self-determined continuum. If the Evening Were Dawn collects ten tracks, five of which made the cut for U.F.O.: “Roll Back the Time”, “Sandman”, “Jerome”, “So Natural” and “Whistle Stop”. Jim Sullivan includes re-recordings of U.F.O’s “Sandman” and “Plain as Your Eyes Can See” (as “Plain to See”).

If the Evening Were Dawn finds Sullivan alone and with an acoustic guitar. While fascinating to hear the U.F.O. songs in a bare-bones form without the instrumentation subsequently added in the studio, these are the strongest tracks. Of the previously unheard material, “Walls”, with its Fred Neil echoes, is good. So is the dynamic “What to Tell Her”. “So Natural” marries doomy, fatalistic lyrics to a downbeat melody, implying Sullivan understood that the Sixties dream was a form of mirage.

Jim Sullivan c 1972_webJim Sullivan is not as arresting as U.F.O. It begins with “Don’t Let it Throw You”, a light, country inclined outing along the Glen Campbell, Gordon Lightfoot and John Stewart lines, an impression bolstered by an arrangement enhancing the song’s kinship with “Gentle on My Mind”. As the album also includes a version of Stewart’s “Lonesome Picker”, perhaps Sullivan was seen by the label as a comparable contender. (pictured right, Jim Sullivan on stage, c. 1972)

This potential, though, is undercut by “Biblical Boogie (True he’s Gone)” with its clunky, intrusively brass-dominated shuffling arrangement. “Amos” is similarly cluttered. The scrappy “Tom Cat” aims for and misses a Tony Joe White feel. The standouts are the songs where Sullivan is left to get on with it; those sharing U.F.O.’s brooding ambience – the stunning “Tea Leaves” and the sardonically autobiographical “Sunny Jim”. Despite the inconsistent album’s highlights, 1972 was too late for this sort of thing. Jim Sullivan would have been a more comfortable fit with 1969 or 1970.

These two releases neither boost or weaken the reputation Sullivan acquired after the 2010 reappearance of U.F.O. Instead, they add to the picture by confirming that his music was integral to an on-going creative narrative. They also raise the question of whether there are any recordings of his mid Sixties band The Survivors. Start with U.F.O., track back to If the Evening Were Dawn and then, once convinced, carefully dip into Jim Sullivan.

After his abandoned car was found on a New Mexico ranch 23 miles from the nearest main road, Jim Sullivan was never seen again

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