On first listen, it's not unreasonable to think that writer/producer Dan Penn's 1973 solo debut, NOBODY'S FOOL, is a bit schlocky. The songs are there, but amidst all the studio bombast it's difficult to suss out the deft touch that Penn brought to soul classics like "I'm Your Puppet"and "The Dark End of the Street." To give up too soon, though, would be to neglect what is an ambitious, impassioned attempt to encompass the entire southern musical tradition into a single musical statement.
Penn sounds not unlike "Suspicious Minds"-era Elvis on orchestrated R&B tracks like "Time" and "Ain't No Love," and while "Prayer for Peace" sounds like an interlude from a Southern-gothic rock opera, it's clear that Penn means every word of his plea. With the exception of a CCR cover, Penn wrote (or co-wrote) and produced the entire album, and is backed by a crew of Memphis's finest. As is often the case with albums by those who became famous working behind the scenes, NOBODY'S FOOL suffers a bit from excess, as if every idea in Penn's head had to be put to tape immediately. But the man's love of music (all of it: rock, pop, country, gospel, blues, soul, etc.) is so genuine and so blind to categories, one can't help being taken in by this quiet masterpiece.
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- Sweet Inspiration: The Songs of Dan Penn & Spooner (Various Artists)