Rychard Carrington reports on Jimmy Webb and Nell Bryden - The Junction, Cambridge, 21 February 2011

Jimmy Webb
Junction 1, The


Support act Nell Bryden, a country singer from New York, engaged us very nicely with a great voice, heartfelt songs and a charming personality. Following a handwritten letter, her music has been championed by Bob Harris and played frequently on Radio 2. Numbers such as Glory To The Day and What Does It Take? suggest she has more success to come.


For the main set, this was a gig with a difference, not just for me but, I think, for most of the audience. On stage there was just a smartly dressed man and a grand piano. He introduced the songs with stories, sang well, enjoyed getting the most out of the piano, and performed a repertoire of literate songs of honest emotion. Is it a sad comment on our times that this seems rather old-fashioned? 


Jimmy Webb, now aged sixty-four, is very well respected as a songwriter. Most of his best -known songs hail form the 1960s, when he was somnething of a prodigy, creating songs (for other singers) that were not only well-crafted but thoroughly mature in their sentiments. Tonight he played his greatest hits: The Highwayman, Galveston, Wichita Lineman, Oklahoma Nights, All I Know, By The Time I Get To Phoenix. Best of all was the wonderful Up, Up And Away, sounding totally different from The Johnny Mann Singers' version of course. Lyrically this contrasted with the prevalent tough-guy-so-deeply-in-love theme. A non-hit that was one of the highlights of this show was What Does A woman See In A Man? from Webb's 1993 album Suspending Disbelief, produced, amidst considerable personality clash (as Webb wittily related), by Linda Ronstadt. The song's humourous yet insightful take on the masculine style deserves a bigger audience.


In between songs Webb related anecdotes about the stars with whom he has worked: big men not to be messed with - Richard Harris, Waylon Jennings, Glen Campbell, Frank Sinatra. Webb is surely a big man too, and a good, honest one, as well as an enviably talented one. After the encore of MacArthur Park there was a standing ovation. We'd seen a master.


Writer: Rychard Carrington