An interesting wee release this. Throughout the ’70s, Jerry Reed was still churning out albums on the punishing but standard Nashville schedule of two ten-song albums a year and, particularly with movies taking up an increasing share of his time, the occasional compilation inevitably took up some of the slack. In 1977, Reed had co-starred with Burt Reynolds, Sally Field and Jackie Gleason (not forgetting Mike Henry, Tarzan fans!) in Smokey and The Bandit, boosting his already high profile. Music for the film is credited to Bill Justis and Jerry Reed, although several other writers were involved, and a soundtrack album on MCA accompanied the movie’s release. Reed was signed to RCA so, presumably as part of some sort of inter-label agreement, three of the Smokey and the Bandit songs were given their ‘own’ RCA album with the rest of the mandatory ten song total being compiled from earlier releases. The notes list only the back catalogue cuts as having been previously issued, so it looks like East Bound and Down was the first release of the three Bandit tracks, beating the soundtrack album to the punch.
Side one kicks off with East Bound and Down itself. Exuberant, banjo-driven fun, it’s firmly rooted in the harmonised electric guitar approach Reed adopted from the mid-’70s on. By contrast, Lightning Rod (from ’75’s Mind Your Love), is a truly jaw-dropping acoustic instrumental drawing from country, bluegrass, flamenco and gypsy jazz to create a unique whole. Reed’s nylon-string playing is staggering. It’s back to Smokey and the Bandit for The Bandit, a rootsy ballad written by Dick Feller, with Jerry on full-on Nashville crooner mode and none the worse for it. Led by the standard guitars/bass/banjo/drums line-up, there’s a slightly psychedelic wah-wah melody part where we might have expected to hear some steel guitar, which is a nice touch. Bake, originally found on ’75’s Red Hot Picker, is another instrumental, this time highlighting Reed’s innovative fusion of funk and country. It leads in nicely to the last of the Bandit cuts, The Legend, infectious storytelling balladry drawing comparisons between Reynolds’ Bandit character and Jesse James etc.
On side two all pretence at this being a ‘proper’ album go out the window as, fresh out of Smokey and the Bandit material, it’s all back catalogue from here. There’s no obvious theme although the sequencing works well throughout, making for a good listen.
Framed (Ko-Ko Joe, ’71) is Leiber and Stoller’s rock and roll classic reframed (sorry) as an Uptown Poker Club-styled pice of Jerry Reed comic froth while You Took All the Ramblin’ Out of Me (Hot A’Mighty, ’73) is a reminder of Reed’s position as one of the greatest country songwriters there ever was. Rainbow Ride, from ’73’s Lord Mr. Ford is a strings-saturated pop ballad that works, while Just to Satisfy You from 1970’s Cookin’, is a sweet psych-pop re-imagining of the early Waylon Jennings classic. Love it. Wrapping things up is Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right from When You’re Hot You’re Hot (’71). Unlike Waylon’s own versions of this one, pure-voiced and tender, this a fun reworking of the Dylan original, a virtual re-write with a killer new arrangement and lyric changes (“You’re the reason this ol’ boy don’t walk the line …”).
As an album, Eastbound and Down works surprisingly well. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the compilation element is drawn from the strongest period of Reed’s recording career. Definitely worth picking up.
At a guess an early ’80s reissue, the tape is in pretty good order and still sounds good. This one was an unexpected transatlantic gift – thanks Mary!