Bill Dees / Marlin Wallace & The Corillions

Something exciting is afoot in southwestern Missouri, and it definitely isn’t coming out of Branson. With the advent of labels such as Crane and Slewfoot and the success of bands like Springfield’s Big Smith, the state has begun to recognize its talented, rootsy southern cousins. The new generation is worth celebrating, but there are also some still-productive songwriting veterans among the region’s residents.

Texas Panhandle native Bill Dees, who now calls Kimberling City, Missouri, home, might not be widely known, but his music is — he’s the cowriter of “Oh, Pretty Woman” and many other songs Roy Orbison made famous. Saturday Night at the Movies features songs Dees and Orbison wrote together, including two previously unreleased songs written just before Orbison’s death. (With a little exposure, one of these, “So This Is Love,” could easily become a wedding classic to rival “Sunrise, Sunset.”) Dees’ voice isn’t quite as fascinating as Orbison’s (whose is?), but he’s clearly comfortable in Orbison’s orbit; his tenor sells deceptively simple tunes and lyrics almost as well. Produced by Lou Whitney and Jack Pribek, Saturday Night captures a gentle, harmonious time without sounding antique.

On the other side of the spectrum is Marlin Wallace’s reissued Double Album, a 31-song collection of twenty-year-old songs from a talented but eccentric (to put it mildly) Springfield songwriter. Most of Wallace’s songs fall somewhere between George Jones’ novelty tunes (think “Old King Kong”) and Jonathan Richman’s quirkiest works, and they’re populated by jungle creatures, Martians, abominable snow monsters and even a “Georgia Corn Liquor Man.” Wallace’s serious songs also hold up well; the touching, troubling Vietnam-era soldier’s plea “Mekong” shows what Wallace can do in his rare realistic moods.

Wild as it can be, Wallace’s music only hints at his paranoia. Wallace writes in his liner notes: “It was not until the latter part of 1972 that I confirmed my earlier suspicion that the reds were using lasers on me,” and he believes those lasers have caused unimaginable pain and irreparable brain damage. Wallace goes on to accuse Communists of stealing his music (“red plagiarism”). If they were smart, they did.

Categories: Music