Months before Nobody's Got It All arrives at record stores, the album is already the talk of Nashville's Music Row. To begin with, it's John Anderson's first new album in three years, sufficient reason alone for widespread rejoicing. Then there is the fact that it was produced by Blake Chancey and Paul Worley, the same production team behind the griddle-hot Dixie Chicks. Add to that the fact that his new label, Columbia Records, is steeped in a rich tradition that includes the likes of Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash and others.
But the real buzz-at least from those lucky enough to have heard the project as it emerged from the studio-was the infectious quality of all the songs. This isn't an album with just two or three highlights, said the insiders. On this one, every cut is a jewel-from Bruce Springsteen's Felliniesque "Atlantic City" to Dennis Linde's feverishly funny "The Big Revival." (The latter song has by now given Music Row a catch-phrase for signifying total commitment: "Praise the Lord, and pass me a copperhead!")
Many early listeners to the album favored the deliciously ironic "It Ain't Easy Being Me," while others praised the angst-ridden "I Ain't Afraid Of Dying" or "Five Generations Of Rock County Wilsons," a withering indictment of "progress" that brought to mind Anderson's own masterpiece of that genre, "Seminole Wind." Whatever their individual picks, all agreed that Anderson never sounded better or more vocally persuasive.
"When this album came along," Anderson explains, "we decided that we weren't going to worry about commercial restraints-about why certain songs might or might not get played. We'd just do songs we liked and hope they'd got played."
Anderson credits the strength and variety of Nobody's Got It All to the slow, deliberate way the album was put together. "It was real relaxed," he says, "but it was also very serious and focussed. We'd cut for two days-all day-and then take maybe a month off and go listen to re-assess and re-evaluate what we had. I kind of like that process-as opposed to going into the studio and trying to do it all in four or five days in a row."
This was the first time Anderson had worked with Chancey and Worley as producers (although Worley had played guitar on some of Anderson's early recordings for Warner Bros.). "In this case," says Anderson, "and I'll give all credit to Blake and Paul, it felt like we'd been working together for years. It was a real good feeling in the studio. They had a great group of players, too." Chancey told one interviewer that of all his recording sessions the most memorable one was "working with John Anderson and watching the huge smiles appear on the musician's faces when he would start singing."
In a recording career that began in 1977, the Apopka, Florida, native has accumulated seven No. 1 and 23 Top 10 hits. One of those No. 1's-"Swingin' -also became a pop hit and the Country Music Association's Single of the Year. It has since been certified the No. 30 Top Jukebox song ("Hey Jude" ranked #31.) In addition to "Swingin'," Anderson has transformed into classics such tunes as "I'm Just An Old Chunk Of Coal," "Would You Catch A Falling Star," "Wild and Blue," "Black Sheep," "When It Comes To You," "Let Somebody Else Drive," "Straight Tequila Night," "Seminole Wind" and "I Wish I Could Have Been There."
The CMA honored Anderson with its Horizon Award in 1983, and 10 years later the Academy of Country Music acknowledged his enormous contributions by presenting him its rarely conferred Career Achievement Award.
Anderson co-wrote three songs for Nobody's Got It All-"I Ain't Afraid Of Dying" and the life-chronicling "Go To Town" (both with Dean Dillon) and the tenderly reassuring "I Love You Again" (with Craig Wiseman). With Chris Knight and Wiseman's "It Ain't Easy Being Me" as a vehicle, Anderson raises self-sabotage and self-loathing to a high art. "The guy [in the song] is pretty hard on himself," the singer concedes with typical understatement.
"Atlantic City" earned its place on the album in quite a roundabout way. Anderson first heard the song on The Band's collection Jericho, which his songwriting sister, Donna, gave him. "I really did like the song," Anderson says. He adds,however, that he had no intention of recording it until his new producers played it for him and asked what he thought. "I said, 'It's a great song, but that's Levon [Helm] singing it, and I don't cover Levon. He's kind of like Ray Charles. You just don't jump on songs cut by Ray Charles or Levon.' But while we were discussing it, we got the news that [Helm's fellow Band founder] Rick Danko has passed away. I said, 'You know, maybe it's a sign that we should go in and try it anyway and see how it turns out.'"
The late Kent Robbins-who helped craft such Anderson hits as "Straight Tequila Night" and "I Wish I Could Have Been There"-also co-wrote (with Layng Martine Jr) the title cut for the new album. Anderson, who says he was drawn to the message as much as the sound, had the song on hold for a year before he took it into the studio. His sister, Donna, and his bass player, Michael Anderson (no relation), contributed the haunting "Appalachian Blue." Hot country newcomer Eric Heatherly and co-writer Michael White chipped in with the wise, gentle ballad "The Call." Al Anderson and Billy Lawson's "You Ain't Hurt Nothin' Yet," the first single from the album, sermonizes on the nature of real agony.
"Baby's Gone Home To Mama," Shawn Camp and Herb McCullough's tongue-in- cheek domestic lament, affords Anderson the opportunity to plumb the absurdities of a breakup-and to take comfort in its positive side effects ("I miss her a lot, but at least she took the little Chihuahua").
"Five Generations Of Rock County Wilsons" came from the pen of Anderson's long-time friend, John Scott Sherrill. "John Scott wrote our first No. 1, 'Wild And Blue,'" Anderson notes. "I was with him not long after he wrote this particular song, and he played it for me then. I've always loved it. But it's one of those songs-kind of like 'Seminole Wind'-that you tend to puzzle over, wondering if anybody's going to like it, other than the people who might actually be involved in these situations."
Anderson had no such qualms about recording "The Big Revival." This lyrical scenario of the triumphs and pitfalls of faith-based "snake handling" appealed instantly to the singer's keen comic sensibilities. With a cartoonish twinkle in hiseye, he sketches out an idea for an accompanying music video: "If I could just get up the nerve to hold up a snake about that long [he sweeps his hands three feet apart] and then bite him in half right at the end of the video, I believe we could sell a million records."
Now at the peak of his vocal power, Anderson brings to this newest album the passion of a newcomer and the cool awareness of an elder statesman.