Jerry Reed's The Man with the Golden Thumb

I have a knack for finding records at thrift stores, digging through the dust and crinkled cellophane and finding that one elusive gem. I chalk it up to the persistence of the hunt that finds me going back week after week, month after month, while some would just buy the damn thing on eBay. After digging through the Mantovani, Mitch Miller, interminable copies of Carole King's Tapestry, I had begun to give up hope that I would find something halfway decent. Then, I pulled a Jerry Reed record that I was unfamiliar with, The Man with the Golden Thumb.

I've long been a fan of Reed's humorous songs and his criminally underrated guitar work, but I had no idea how good this record would be. The title track has shown up on Greatest Hits collections, and is just another in a number of good novelty songs about guitar players that stem back to Reed's early hits, such as "Guitar Man," which made it to number 53 on the country charts in 1967 before Elvis Presley took it to number one. The song is a bit funkier with Reed half-singing, half-talking in his imitable storytelling style.

The rest of the album is soulful and somewhat unexpected. Reed shows the complete range of his talent through many soul numbers that recall Charlie Rich and Tony Joe White more than what is commonly expected of the man known for his role in Smokey and the Bandit. The album was recorded at Fame Studios and engineered crisply by Rick Hall, Johnny Sandlin, and Walt Aldridge. "Love is Muddy Water" is pure, contemplative, and passionate Muscle Shoals soul. "(Shu Doo Pa Poo Poop) Love Being Your Fool" is an uptempo burner, in which Reed maintains soulful vocals while sounding more like his typical self behind Hammond B-3 and funky bass lines. Hand claps abound as the song breaks down into a nice sing-along section before fading out. "The Best I Ever Had" is another slow soul number that simmers, and is, perhaps, Reed's best vocal. Side One closes with a faithful and believable version of Clarence Carter's "Patches."

Side Two opens with another typical Reed single, "She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft)" which tells a classic shaggy dog divorce story, as only he can tell them, complete with "goodbye turkey," chuckles, and other classic Reed witticisms. "The Hobo" is a classic slice of am country, reminiscent of Kris Kristofferson, "44" is funky and thumping, Reed's rendition of "It Tears Me Up" is sad and swelling, but "Stray Dogs and Stay Women" is arguably the finest number on the side. The song compares the two, while showing the narrator's softer side. Reed's picking and guitar playing are nicely showcased, but his vocals continue to shine.

While Reed's story songs are always high quality, the deep cuts here are where it's at. They paint a picture of a talented singer and stylist who is comfortable with any style. From top to bottom, the album is one of Reed's most complete. The album's cover is deceptive; Reed, dressed in flannel and overalls, sheepishly grins and gives a thumbs up, his wrist resting on his trusty guitar. An image straight off a John Denver record, it doesn't capture the grit and warmth found in these grooves.

Jerry Reed - "The Best I Ever Had"


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