Born in 1946, Oklahoman Jimmy Webb remains one of America's greatest songwriters. His songs are timeless, true standards that resonate in any era. Webb's father was a Baptist minister and former Marine who presided over rural churches in southwestern Oklahoma and west Texas. Like many southerners of that era, Webb's earliest musical influences were the sounds of gospel music.
Webb always had the music bug, so after moving to California for college, he planted roots in Los Angeles so that he could try his hand at songwriting. Webb never looked back as he would soon provide the world classics like "By the Time I Get to Phoenix", "Wichita Lineman", and "MacArthur Park". All of these songs have been covered again and again. Webb was also known for his close ties to Arkansan Glen Campbell who had a particular affinity for interpreting Webb's songs like "Galveston".
Webb has also record 12 solo albums over the last few decades. All are worth seeking out not only to hear his versions of his classic hits but also to hear other songs of his that aren't as well known. Webb's song have a cinematic quality to them that is wholly original.
It shouldn't be a surprise that music runs deep in the Webb family. Four of his sons formed the Webb Brothers more than a decade ago. The Webb Brothers band also features Glen Campbell's son Cal. A few years ago, Jimmy Webb decided it was time to make a family album:
I was sitting in my kitchen looking out into the backyard at the 100-year-old oaks that tower over our home, thinking back 50 years of the farm where the Cottonwoods grew and the tribe of young Webbs and Killingsworths who grew up like a tribe from Lord of the Flies, flinging flaming spears and digging caves in the banks of the creek. I thought about my own sons, and the fact that we are all rapidly growing older, including my father who is 86. As clear as day a voice spoke out of the heavens: “You need to make an album with your boys.” I picked up the phone without hesitation and made the call to my son Justin. It was — without question — the best decision I ever let happen.
That was the moment when the Cottonwood Farm album was born.
The Webb Brothers served as the band, and everyone brought songs to the table. They didn't stop there as both Jimmy's father Bob and his daughter Camilia lended their vocal talents bringing three generations of Webbs together to celebrate their family legacy.
The album kicks off with another of Webb's famous songs "Highwayman" which served as the central song for the legendary collaboration between Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson. On this version we get the voices of Webb, his sons, and his father. It is a gritty and emotional version of a classic.
The title track follows, and it is a 12 minute song suite that incorporates the family's history in Oklahoma with multiple voices, diverse instrumentation, and lovingly created segues between parts. Every Webb's voice is heard here. Jimmy Webb wrote this song for his grandfather during the 1970s, and it is an achievement that stands tall amongst Webb's amazing catalog. In some ways, it's one of the greatest because it can only be sung by him and his family due to its intensely personal nature.
Truth be told, the album could have ended here and still been fantastic. Instead, more great songs follow. Jimmy wisely visits two more of his deep song catalog - he lends his voice to "If These Walls Could Speak", a song which has been covered by Amy Grant and Shawn Colvin, while son James sings the poignant "Where The Universes Are".