Tom T. Hall
Songs From Sopchoppy

Based on the strength and beauty of his best material, it is proper to number Tom T. Hall among Nashville's great songwriters. But for every stunning "That's How I Got to Memphis" or "I Flew Over Our House Last Night", Hall seems equally inclined to produce novelties such as "I Like Beer" or sentimental fluff like "Old Dogs, Children and Watermelon Wine."

With Songs From Sopchoppy, named after and recorded in his part-time home base of Sopchoppy, Florida, the now sixtysomething Hall is back after nearly a decade with a record of new material. The album was recorded in a barn, and the liner notes include an apology if the "project seems to lack technical perfection", which led me to envision (or at least hope for) a good old-fashioned live session with the tapes just rolling along for the ride. No such luck, I'm afraid.

Instead, this album features antiseptic easy-listening sounds, complete with Kenny G.-style sax fills and punchless horns throughout. While the songs generally avoid slipping into novelty, they lack substance and are excessively sentimental. The record still has its pleasant moments, mostly because of Hall's vocals, but these are drowned in a sea of sugary arrangements and production. This bundle of MOR compromises creates a Branson-ready product--bland music for the unquestioning faithful.

When the Nashville crowd does a Tom T. Hall tribute one of these days, something from Songs From Sopchoppy might appear there. If a group of singer-songwriters were to counter with a Tulare Dust-type effort (and I hope they do), you can bet that this material will be mercifully overlooked.

--Jim Cox
No Depression, Vol. 1, No. 4, Summer 1996

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