I don't know what I expected from this album exactly, but somehow it doesn't quite fit the bill. Jack Nitzsche has a reputation for being involved with pretty cool things (e.g. Phil Spector, good Rolling Stones albums), so I've been interested in hearing this album for a while. I guess he also has a cool name, and the word 'surfer' is one of those 'cool record alert' words for me (like 'gogo', 'NOW', 'discotheque' etc), so I didn't hesitate to pick this up when I saw it today. And I do quite like it, however, it's not as I'd hoped - a twangy, reverb-drenched yet breezy instrumental pop album with a light orchestral backing. It's rather more bombastic than that, some how, with an interesting use of percussion (I hear loud timpanis in some songs).
The album was recorded in 1963 after its title track 'the lonely surfer' was a minor hit. Sure, all the tracks have a low-register twangy guitar, but most of the time, these are joined by some very treble-heavy, overbearing strings. On the title track, this produces quite a cool early-60s pop feel. And several other tracks are also fun - the low, deadpan guitar on 'ebb tide', and old favorite song of mine, is very cool. The 'magnificent seven' cover is quite competent, but Jack Nitsche's ensemble doesn't really add flair to the song like Al Caiola does in his version.
There is even a cover of the song 'Baja' by my hero Lee Hazlewood (I guess this was written for Duane Eddy), which builds up quite nicely (oddly enough, Laika and the Cosmonauts cover this same track on their 'Zero Gravity' album, which I've been listening to a lot recently). 'Theme for a broken heart', which I wanted to be a David Lynch soundtrack-esque 50s style twangy pop ballad, is strangely lacklustre and uninteresting to me.
'Beyond the Surf' is one of the cooler tracks, but while the slow, low picked notes on the guitar are cool, I'm longing for some high-twangy solos, but instead I get swirling strings. I'm a guy who *loves* swirling strings, but on this record, i just want them to go home. I have an old album at home by Eric Judd called 'Rocking Violins which has a similar, slightly backward-looking approach to mixing rock music with strings.
Overall, I much prefer Santo & Johnny's sea-themed album of around the same time, 'Offshore' to this record. It's tamer, but the use of strings (arranged by Mort Garson) is much more to my taste. 'The lonely surfer; is interesting to have, but I won't be putting it on every day.