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Billy Swan

The Best of Billy Swan – 1998 (Epic/Legacy)

Reviewed by Walter Allread

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CDs by Billy Swan

For a so-called "one-hit wonder," Billy Swan had a great track record. His "I Can Help" was an unlikely #1 hit, topping pop, country and adult contemporary charts worldwide in 1974. His high school poem "Lover Please," which Swan sings here, went to # 7 for Clyde McPhatter in '62. He also was a bandleader for Kris Kristofferson (whose "Stranger" Swan sings balefully) and produced Tony Joe White's swamp-rock classic, "Polk Salad Annie."

The gently swaying "I Can Help," of course, leads off this set, its rolling organ still as comforting as Linus' blanket. Swan's song has a sweet vibe ("It would sure do me good to do you good") that hasn't soured even after use in several commercials (most recently for Texaco). The sole misstep is a turgid take on Elvis' "Don't Be Cruel," but the rest of Swan's best add up to great roots rock with pure pop touches.

Spiced by jazz, R&B, country, rockabilly and even mariachi, Swan's buoyant music retains an organic wholesomeness. Current purveyors of Americana would do well to study how Swan cooks up this stew without overloading the senses. Nashville's HNC acts, meanwhile, should mind how he keeps a light touch without sounding frivolous. Of two straight country tunes, "Do I Have to Draw a Picture" (co-written with Guy Clark) matches "I Can Help" for warmth and tunefulness.