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The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get
Joe Walsh

Dunhill 50140
Released: June 1973
Chart Peak: #6
Weeks Charted: 54
Certified Gold: 11/2/73

Joe WalshJoe Walsh is out to do the Stephen Stills number by splitting his supergroup and forging out for Musical Freedom and a distinguished solo career (least that's what it says here). Sounds great -- only Joe's band, the James Gang, wasn't that super and while Stills has just now completed the process of consuming himself, Joe's already done a pretty good job of it on only his second solo album.

If there was a James Gang sound, it had to do with Joe's high vocal whine that sounded for all the world like somebody had taught a Moog synthesizer to talk. Some of the old Gang material ("Tend My Garden" on Rides Again) was so contoured to Joe's voice no one else could have performed it. For better or worse, it was the source of the band's identity. Much of Joe's current trouble rests in his lack of one.

I'm all for eclecticism in pop music. Some of this year's best albums (like Paul Simon's and Todd Rundgren's) are distinguished by it. But The Smoker You Drink -- the years best album title -- draws from a number of forms without showing confidence in any of them. Presenting a laid-back Joe Walsh who still wants to rock is as confusing as offering a rhythm guitar-powered riffer who's also taking it easy in Colorado; it is difficult to tell from this album who we're listening to.

"Rocky Mountain Way," with its "The Rocky Mountain Way/Is better than the way we had," is the LP's standout -- and it sounds the closest to the old James Gang. It opens a set which dips down into rhythm-led power tunes, reggae leanings, close-harmonied ballads and acoustic pieces, but never seems comfortable with anything. Ex-Amboy Duke Joe Vitale remains from Barnstorm, with keyboard man Rocke Grace and bassist Kenny Passarilli now added. All are properly subdued, with the exception of Vitale's tasteful flute work on "Midnight Moodies." Mostly, however, the playing is of a detached nature, professional but uninspired.

Joe even gets in some licks himself, especially in acoustic-based tunes like "Happy Ways," which are hardly embarrassing to him; neither do they show off the stuff I believe he has. The results still sound like he's shopping around. Like succotash, this album has plenty of elements, but each is such a meager and half-hearted supply that they lose their individual flavor.

- Tom Dupree, Rolling Stone, 9/13/73.

Bonus Reviews!

On Walsh's second outing, he fused the dynamics and textures of Barnstorm, mixed in a few well-crafted tunes, perfect for FM radio, and scored his highest charting album. Smoker's centerpiece was the plodding "Rocky Mountain Way," a perfect vehicle for his soaring slidework and squirrelly tenor strangle. "Meadows" was also a substantial FM hit. Other highlights are "Days Gone By" and "Happy Ways." * * * *

- Rick Clark, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get is Barnstorm's defining moment, housing hot tracks such as "Rocky Mountain Way" and "Meadows." * * *

- Gary Graff, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

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