Jimmie Spheeris: Musician

img_4128How many people remember his? He was a singer/songwriter who’s deeply intimate and moving songs won him a devoted audience in the 1970s and early 1980s. He had an even more soulful voice than James Taylor.

His first album was Isle of View (1971). With such luscious songs as “The Nest” and “I Am the Mercury” this album was a college student’s delight. I’m sure it helped lead to many amorous couplings.  Spheeris used some unique guitar tunings, much like Joni Mitchell. Spheeris was a talented picker, getting unheard melodies from his guitar.  His songs had a sweetness like a warm, natural sugar.

“The Nest” Stark piano notes, sweeping into plaintive chords, the plucking of a string instrument set the stage for the soft voice, punctuate by a pulse of orchestra and singing. Swirling orchestra backing, then it backs down to the soft piano and voice core of the song, then a big finish.

come to me now – dove on your shoulder
white flame of love burns on your breath
I am ready for flight
oh my wings are so ripe
come wake me
take me from the nest

“I Am the Mercury” A slow building acoustic song, haunting vocals, with string backing.  It’s a smooth song that reaches a crescendo.

I cannot go anymore to the marshes
where the gatekeeper smiles at the poisons that he’s made
for my heart belongs to the one on the mountain
where the doves build their nests in the sun-ripened glade

for I am the mercury – light of the morning
looking for shelter in this thunder and this rain
and you like some windmill weave light where its storming
your love like a potion for the hunger and the pain
Let it rain

“Come Back” Spheeris has a voice that lingers, and with studio processing, it is thick like warm sweet molasses.  A song of wanting, the music gently rolling over you, caressed by Spheeris’ voice.

“Monte Luna”  A gentle, open tuning, mainly just guitars and woodwinds, like a fine mist settling over you.

“Let It Flow”  More uptempo, still a gentle song, a slight country flavor to it.

I watch the waves down at the shoreline
they come like thought rolling in more time
love me like the force that makes them grow
pure and free in all directions
naked sea in our reflection
somewhere so high above these gates you know I know
glory grows

“Long Way Down” A slow intro of several acoustic guitars before the song shifts into a higher gear.  Spheeris again double tracks his voice, it slides across the speakers, this time he puts some heft into the words, then back down as the song shifts moods.

“Seeds of Spring” A bright piano beat, yielding a heartfelt melody, picking up energy, then quietly dissipating as it rolls along.  Spheeris double tracks his already warm voice with his rich intonation.  One of the nicest of the songs on the album.

“Seven Virgins” Spheeris can rock, which he does with a thumping bass and jangley piano.

“Esmaria” Probably the best song on the album. The melody is soft and haunting, the guitars ringing in your ears.  Aching, ringing guitars and sad lyrics, then the song jumps into a faster gear, then it backs down again to a soulful, aching plea to come home.  For the next two plus minutes, the guitars and strings are haunting and slowly fade out.

come on home to me
leaving the cocoon cradle
reaching for a star
breathing in the joker’s fable
make me wonder who we really are
don’t you wonder who we are?
bring it home

lay down your stones, come on
bring it home
lay down your stones, bring it home
lay down your stones
come on
bring it home

 

The Original Tap Dancing Kid followed in 1973.  The quality of the production is a little higher but it is basically the same formula as his first album.  The songs are not quite as soulful and distinctive in their chord and mood changes.  The guitar work is good and his playing is superb.  The songs are brighter, more uptempo, more traditional instrumentation.

 

The Dragon is Dancing (1975) his third album has a tougher, grittier sound, even some screaming electric guitars. He wanted to expand his talent as a writer and performer.

“Tequila Moonlite” is a bright, melodic song with horns and bigger production. Spheeris provides a good vocal performance, more upbeat than his usual song.

“Summer Salt” is a more traditional pop song, a bouncy mid-tempo number, but Spheeris lends his unique vocal ability over the echoing guitar.

“Love in Vain,” “Lost in the Midway” and “Blue Streets are the closest to the quiet, aching texture of his first album.

 

Ports of the Heart (1976) is a more traditional album, but a few of the songs sound similar to his first album.  He does experiment with styles, and utilizes more traditional pop instrumentation, relying less on making his voice big and emoting to carry the songs.

He does several covers, “It’s All in the Game” which is a wonderful version. “So Lonesome I Could Cry” is a fine song but I’m not sure why he included it.

“Bayou Eyes” Softer but mid-tempo, piano is dominant with strings, the music carries this song.  This would be good on any of his albums.  A quality song.

“Hill in My Head” A song that is gentle, then gets more robust, one of the better songs on the album. The song ends with a big orchestra backing and electric guitar.

“Whirlpool” is soft and gentle, familiar to his first album.  Simple piano and guitar arrangement.

“It’s You They’re Dreaming Of” Soft and romantic, a good fit on his first album.

“Sweet Separation” has synth beat, an R&B flavored song.  Interesting shift in style but it doesn’t quite make it.

“Emerald and the Dream Dance” is a bigger production. I think he burying some of his melodies instead of enhancing them.

“Child From Nowhere” Another soft one, not overpowering.  Piano, guitar, bass, percussion and woodwind.

 

After those four albums, Columbia Records did not renew his contract. He supported himself by playing concerts.

He died in 1984, victim of a drunk driver. He was 34 years old. The album he was working on when he died would eventually be released in 2000 as Spheeris. The previous year, a live album, An Evening With Jimmie Spheeris was released.

Jimmie Spheeris is singer/songwriter you vaguely remember.  Spheeris is a voice from the past, of a different generation.  If you’ve heard his rich voice, his soft and silky style, you don’t soon forget it. He is, the mercury.


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