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Garden Party
Rick Nelson and the Stone Canyon Band

Decca 75391
Released: November 1972
Chart Peak: #32
Weeks Charted: 18

Rick NelsonOn the front cover, which is stunning, there are several things of note. Rick photographs better here than he ever has in 32 1/2 unnaturally handsome years, resplendent in a jacket of rock & roll (embroidered) velvet. He's gripping his Les Paul Gibson with both hands, and with the same tenacity that's kept him going through the dubious success of his recent career. Right above his elegantly coifed head, in thin but emphatic lettering, is the name of the first bona fide smasheroo he's had in God knows how long.

"Garden Party" isn't the only song of self-revelation Rich has ever recorded -- there was, after all, "Teenage Idol" way back when ("Some people call me a Teenage Idol/Some people say they envy me/ I guess they got no way of knowing/How lonesome I can be") -- but it has a surprisingly intimate production that helps the earnestness ring true. His singing is clearer and stronger here than anywhere else on the album, and better in tune with the lyrics, too. And he's singing about something that's both simple and specific (almost too much so, what with the dash of name-dropping), an effectively limited subject that works perfectly with the controlled vocal and muted, bouncy backup.

Rick Nelson and the Stone Canyon Band - Garden Party
Original album advertising art.
Click image for larger view.
But Rick is much more ambitious as singer, writer and producer than "Garden Party" would indicate. Most of the album pursues both a bigger sound and loftier sentiments, with mixed results. He sounds like a different, heavily overdubbed man -- stronger, but less distinctive -- on the version of Chuck Berry's "I'm Talking About You," which provides a fine showcase for the A-1 Stone Canyon Band (who take a nice, if irrelevant, jazz-rock break in mid-song). Here, and on the album's other hardish rockers ("I Wanna Be with You," "Don't Let Your Goodbye Stand," and "Let It Bring You Along," none of which Rick wrote) the sound is tense and clean, agreeable but a little strained.

"Let It Bring You Along" is the most interesting cut on the album, because it beautifully exemplifies the unresolvedly schizoid qualities of Rick's style. The song is alternately gentle and driving, quiet and loud, with no real transitions between the two moods (only a tiny bit of ooh-ah, which sounds like a straight steal from middle-kingdom Beatles). As for the lyrics, a little couplet like "Is she real or just an image?/ Did she leave satisfied?" juxtaposes the two distinct temperaments that crop up in Ricks own compositions. Line one sounds like the guy who wrote "Life" (on his last album), or "Are You Really Real?" here. The second line, its concern both more commonplace and more substantial, is closer to Rick at his least over-extended, his most vulnerable, his purest and best.

For all its oddities of conflicting style, this is both an interesting album and a largely satisfying one. Rick has yet to emerge clearly as a songwriter, but as producer and singer both he seems to know exactly what he wants, even though he isn't always equipped to do it. He still sounds like he wishes he could belt out "Honky Tonk Women" (he tried, not long ago). But he also sounds more accepting of his own natural restraint than he's been in the recent past, and better able to work both with and around his excellent band.

- Janet Maslin, Rolling Stone, 2/15/73.

Bonus Reviews!

I admire Rick Nelson for several reasons; he has bravely and consistently rejected a popular rock-and-roll past that he was probably unhappy about even at the time it was taking place; he has studiously and conscientiously bettered himself as a musician; he has kept his own faith when almost everyone has consigned him to the dead letter office of rock fan mail; and with all this he grew to physical manhood and musical manhood and refused to compromise on either. For years he put out good products, and he has had the quiet patience to wait for the world to wake up and catch up with him.

It is heartening to see him cheered now for a single called "Garden Party," which has to do with his appearance at a rock-and-roll revival concert where, along with his old hits, he attempted to present his manhood and his manly music -- which the audience rejected. Yet "Garden Party" is gentle but firm, philosophical but intensely personal. The single was (is) a tremendous hit and the world is finally realizing that R. Nelson is going to do musical things on R. Nelson's own terms.

Further reading on
Super Seventies RockSite!:

Album Review: Windfall

Rick Nelson Lyrics

Rick Nelson Videos

Ricky Nelson Mugshots

With all this, though, the question still remains: granted his moral fiber, maturity, and professional showbiz background, does Nelson have any real talent? If so, does he have enough to get excited about?

It is difficult to say. Nelson seems to have focused on his music as the proof of his life. He did not have to make that decision; his recording success in the Fifties and early Sixties was enough to put him into rock history, albeit minor rock history -- and there are several performers who cling ferociously to their minor place in rock history as the proof of their life. Nelson could have invested his earnings in California real estate and lived a comfortable life thereafter. But he chose to go against everything that had made his name a household word, to expect and quietly demand recognition as his own man, on his own time, on his own talent And that -- as any performer knows -- is always entirely subject to the whims of the public. I you are really good, it still may take years before you get any respect.

Well, Rick Nelson deserves the respect he has held out for. His new album is honest and pleasing; high marks for musicianship and taste go to all concerned. Nelson has also turned into a pretty good songwriter; "Palace Guard," the outstanding song on the album, and "A Flower Opens Gently By" are really impressive. He don't mess around, man.

- Joel Vance, Stereo Review, 4/73.

Having just had a phenomenal return to the charts with a top 10 record, Nelson presents a fine LP sure to compete in the top 10 of the LP charts. With the Stone Canyon Band, he spotlights his hit "Garden Party," and others like "Nighttime Lady," "Palace Guard," "Are You Really Real?" and "So Long Mama," all Nelson originals. He also does "I Wanna Be With You" and Chuck Berry's "I'm Talking About You."

- Billboard, 1973.

This is the music "no one heard" at the Garden party because Rick "didn't look the same." Despite such titles as "Are You Really Real?" and "A Flower Opens Gently By" he has some reason to pout if music rather than songs is the operative concept -- the band is concentrated, jagged. Best music: Chuck Berry's "I'm Talking About You." Second-best song: Rick's own "So Long Mama." B-

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

This comeback introduced Nelson to a new generation. * * * *

- Bill Dahl, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

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