Two years ago, when JD Souther resurfaced after 25 years of recording silence with If the World Was You, it seemed the dean of Southern California folk-rock was poised for late-breaking, Boz Scaggs-esque reinvention as a jazz singer. That album featured 11 new Souther compositions, thematically akin to the platinum hits he penned back in the day for the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt and himself. Now, with the aptly titled Natural History, he fully reverts to his roots, with 10 covers of tunes—all written or co-written by Souther—made famous by, um, the Eagles, Ronstadt and himself.
This mellow acoustic affair isn’t truly jazz. It’s more the resurrection of that hazy, sun-baked, emotionally introspective musical era that both paralleled and defined the maturation of the baby-boom generation. But Souther has, like Scaggs, settled into a vocal ripeness that makes the likes of “The Sad Café,” “Faithless Love,” “New Kid in Town,” “Prisoner in Disguise,” “Best of My Love” and “You’re Only Lonely” sound fresh and penetrating. If nothing else, Souther proves his work holds up as well as Dylan’s or Simon’s or Lennon and McCartney’s and, even if nostalgia and the specters of Henley and Frey are unavoidable, deserves such astute re-examination. Interestingly, Souther closes with “I’ll Be Here at Closing Time,” the song that opened If the World Was You. It is a rather ideal denouement, a perfect end cap for this intelligent exercise in durability.