By the early 1940s the crooners had begun to make their mark, with Jimmie Davies — future Democrat governor of Louisiana — having led the way. Many of them had toiled and crooned in the 1930s. But with a world war slowly engulfing the globe, the market wanted, and got, romance. More than that, men took their country songs with them to the army and disseminated the music among their fellow soldiers. Country music thus found new fans, and its leading singers — Roy Acuff, Gene Autry, Red Foley, Tex Ritter, Eddy Arnold — gained a national audience. In 1945, Arnold even beat the mighty Frank Sinatra in a favourite-singer poll among GIs stationed in Germany. Read more…
Porter Wagoner – The First Mrs Jones (1967).mp3
Once upon a time Mr Jones fell in love with Betty. He married her in September, but by November she had left him. And as Mr Jones tells his story, we can sort of see why. When Betty (he prefers to call her The First Mrs Jones) left, Mr Jones went into überstalker mode. He followed her to Savannah, New Orleans and Atlanta, pestering her to return to him. Then the drinking started (though we have a hunch that Mr Jones was not averse to the occasional tipple before). “It was cold and dark one morning, just before the day was dawning, when I staggered from a tavern to a phone. When she picked up her receiver I said: ‘You’re gonna come back or either they’re gonna be calling you the Late Mrs Jones.” Clearly Betty made clear her intentions to decline the offer, but evidently saw no need to seek safe refuge. So, to cut a long story short, Mr Jones took a taxi, made a lot of noise outside her house. He doesn’t remember what happens next. Consciousness returned when he was burying her bones in the woods, touchingly putting flowers on the fresh grave.
So why is Mr Jones telling us his unlovely story? Well, he isn’t addressing us, which we know because now things are taking a sinister turn: he is talking to his new wife who evidently is entertaining crazy notions of leaving him. “Really now, don’t you wanna come go with me? After all, you are the Second…Mrs Jones.”
Rosie Thomas – Charlotte (2002).mp3
This is a gentle song in which the narrator observes her eponymous neighbour and friend suffering the treatment of an abusive drunkard husband. “Charlotte, you used to be much happier, but it’s not you that’s to blame. Charlotte, you let him push you round, and you’re falling apart at the seams.” But the bad times won’t last forever. “One day he’ll get just what he deserves, and you can be yourself once again.” Soon there’s drama again. There’s yelling and threats and, suddenly, a shot. The narrator runs over, and sees the scumbag dead in his chair. She tells Charlotte: “I’ll tell the cops everything.” But she does not mean the truth. She concocts a cover-up, so that Charlotte can start a new life somewhere else.
Neil Young – Down By The River (1969)
Neil Young is running a theme as old as song itself — the crime of passion; the wronged husband avenging his honour (Porter Wagoner will feature again with one of the best songs on that theme). But this being 1969, and musicians of Young’s ilk more interested in laying down guitar jams than producing lucid lyrics, we must figure out ourselves the circumstances leading to the murder, which the narrator at least admits to: “Down by the river, I shot my baby. Down by the river…Dead, oh, shot her dead.” The rest is just crazy hippie talk about rainbows. So, obviously, youngologists believe the song is about heroin.
Well, the whiny, occasional Republican clarified the meaning in 1984 at a gig in New Orleans. The narrator met his woman at the titular location. “And he told her she’d been cheatin’ on him one too many times. And he reached down in his pocket and he pulled a little revolver out. Said: ‘Honey, I hate to do this, but you pushed me too far’.” Two hours later he gets arrested at his house. Young’s full explanation can be found here. I just want to know why he didn’t say all that in the song?
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The third Covered In Soul compilation may draw from the most eclectic original material yet. So in the space of four songs we move from Grateful Dead favourite Casey Jones via The Beatles to a Barry Manilow song and a Roy Orbison song reinvented by Al Green. A couple of show tunes get the soul treatment. Sammy Davis Jr’s wonderful I’ve Gotta Be Me is lovely in Vivian Reed’s hands, while I would regard the Supremes and Temptations collaboration on The Impossible Dream more as a curiosity (hence its position as a postscript).
The previous two mixes featured few covers of soul songs; this compilation includes four (it is a coincidence that they are sequenced in a group). All of them are true reinterpretations of the originals. I particularly love the tangents in Freddy North’s cover of David Ruffin’s My Whole World Ended.
Baby Huey’s funkified instrumental version of California Dreaming might be my favourite here, alongside White’s Manilow cover. Manilow haters are well advised to maintain an open mind when they come to Could It Be Magic: Anthony White’s interpretation is masterful. White is not very famous; the Philly singer released only two LPs.
Trivia fans will be interested to learn that Claudia Linnear, an accomplished backing singer who released only one album, was the inspiration for both the Rolling Stones’ Brown Sugar and David Bowie’s Lady Grinning Soul.
As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R, and a front and back cover is included.Incidentally, if you’d like to match the covers reproduced on the CD artwork to the featured artist, look in the MP3 files ID3 tag. Several of the songs included here are, to my knowledge, out of print. When they’re not, be sure to buy the albums that include the songs that you like in particular — if you like the album fillers, you’ll surely like the rest of the album.
1. Grady Tate – Moondance (1974)
2. Lou Rawls – For What It’s Worth (1968)
3. Claudia Lennear – Casey Jones (1973)|
4. Bloodstone – Something (1973)
5. Anthony White – Could It Be Magic (1976)
6. Al Green – Oh, Pretty Woman (1972)
7. Zulema – Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow (1972)
8. The Temprees – Dedicated To The One I Love (1972)
9. Baby Huey – California Dreamin’ (1971)
10. Ronnie Dyson – Fever (1970)
11. Minnie Riperton – Les Fleur (1970)
12. Mavis Staples – Since I Fell for You (1970)
13. Freddie North – My Whole World Ended (1975)
14. Brothers Unlimited – A Change Is Gonna Come (1970)
15. Tammi Terrell – This Old Heart Of Mine (Is Weak For You) (1968)
16. Darrell Banks – When A Man Loves A Woman (1969)
17. Freddie Scott – Let It Be Me (1967)
18. Vivian Reed – I’ve Gotta Be Me (1970)
19. Madeline Bell – Make It With You (1971)
20. Four Tops – Cherish (1967)
21. Diana Ross & the Supremes and the Temptations – The Impossible Dream (1968)
When we read about a vicious crime, our sympathy extends to the victim’s family and we grieve the loss of another fragment of our innocence as humanity’s capacity for cruelty relentlessly chips away at the “heile Welt” of our childhood. But rarely do our thoughts concern those who love the criminal, whose loss of a loved one to the wheels of justice may be compounded by their own incomprehension at the act, the social stigma and indignity of their association with the criminal (the family’s final visit to the condemned man in Dead Man Walking drives that home powerfully), and possibly economic hardship. And with that out of the way, let’s meet some killers.
Clyde Arnold – Black Smoke And Blue Tears (1961).mp3
In Clyde Arnold’s superb 1961 rockabilly song, the narrator recalls boarding a train to commence his sentence for murdering a man in a gambling dispute (“I didn’t mean to kill him. Why did he have to die?”). On the platform he gives his darling a last kiss goodbye — “I tried to hide my handcuffs, she tried to hide her tears” — before he boarded the train of the black smoke which with the blue tears in his yes obscure his last vision of the girl.
It’s been a while since then, and she has evidently moved on. “Seems like a hundred years have passed since that sad, sad day. I guess by now she’s forgotten me, since I’ve been away.” But he has not forgotten. “Lookin’ through the bars tonight, dark clouds in the sky,remind me of that coal black smoke and blue tears in my eyes.”
Johnny Cash – 25 Minutes To Go (live, 1969).mp3
We don’t know the crime of Cash’s narrator, but we know that “they’re building a gallows outside my cell; I’ve got 25 minutes to go”. Other than high treason, you presumably get executed only for murder in the US. The narrator counts down the final 25 minutes before his execution. We learn that his last meal was beans, that his appeals are unsuccessful, that he spits a mocking sheriff in the eye (to the delight of the audience at Folsom Prison), that the trap and rope are being checked, that he does not want to die but eventually he must go-o-o-o-o-o-o-o… I’m not sure whether the song is necessarily an anti-capital punishment statement, but the black humour barely masks the inhumanity of a man counting down the minutes till his carefully appointed death.
Alice Cooper – Killer (1971).mp3
Alice Cooper’s narrator is feeling rather sorry for himself. “What did I do to deserve such a fate?” See, somebody handed him a gun. It’s always somebody else’s fault (except in Johnny Cash’s songs. He always takes the rap). The narrator says he “didn’t really want to get involved in this thing”. But he did, and now he is facing the consequences for his crime, no matter his complaining that nothing ever came easy. Poverty and hardship may explain crime, perhaps even justify petty crimes, but not everybody who is poor becomes a violent criminal. We all have a choice. So much for the lyrics. The sound of the song hints at an alternative reality: it sounds to me as though the narrator is descending into madness. Was he mentally ill when he committed the crime? Is he now committing suicide (“Now I need to escape. Someone near me, calling my name.”).
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This might become a new series: moments in pop that you really would not have expected. One of these would be the case of the country legend and everybody’s dad’s favourite singer recording an album of original songs in Afrikaans. So it was with Jim Reeves, who in 1963 recorded an album solely for the small South African market.
The linernotes for the re-release of the Jy Is My Liefling album on CD in 1995, written by the album’s producer Louis Combrinck, recall Gentleman Jim’s huge popularity in South Africa, where he was by far the biggest-selling star. Long before the cultural anti-apartheid boycott took hold, Reeves toured South Africa in the early 1960s, with a line-up that included the great Chet Atkins and legendary piano tinkler Floyd Cramer (the tour was plugged as RCA, punning on the artists’ label and the initials of their surnames). In the Orange Free State capital of Bloemfontein, a bastion of Afrikanerdom, Reeves took to the stage shouting “Vrystaat! The best!” By shouting Vrystaat, Reeves expressed the archetypal South African cliché.
While in Johannesburg, Reeves recorded a cover version of a popular song at the time, From A Jack To A King by Ned Miller. The single went on to top the South African charts, and inspired in RCA the idea of Reeves recording an album in Afrikaans. Combrinck was tasked with putting together a bunch of songs with lyrics in easily pronounceable Afrikaans, which Reeves could sing phonetically while back in South Africa to tour and appear in the film Kimberley Jim (about an American singer during the 1880 goldrush in the Northern Cape town). Reeves’ American-accented Afrikaans is quite passable; he clearly made an effort. The songs themselves are the sort of sentimental Reeves fare that got your dad hooked (and you probably truly put off).
In 2003, almost 40 years after Reeves’ death in a plane crash in 1964, South African singer Patricia Lewis pulled a Natalie Cole by releasing a duet of the album’s title track, Jy Is My Liefling (You Are My Darling).
Here is the full album, which I think is out of print.
Last year I wrote a series of my ten favourite albums in each year of the past decade. When the ’10s end, I’ll be stuck to produce a list for 2010. I’ve fallen off Planet Latest Releases, encountering the occasional new release by accident or recommendation. I am looking forward to getting my hands on the new album by the lovely Weepies (out 31 August), and I’m intrigued to hear Ben Folds’ collaboration with the writer Nick Hornby, which is scheduled for release later this month. Some albums I looked forward to have disappointed me (Josh Rouse, where are you going?). Here then are a couple of albums from 2010 that made me prick up my ears.
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Willie Nelson – Country Music
Willie Nelson lost me before he could have had me when he did that duet with Julio Iglesias, who was as uncool as uncool would ever get (and collaborator of promiscuous character, Willie has duetted indiscriminately with some pretty dodgy characters). I never liked On The Road Again much, nor his version of Always On My Mind. It was only when I became familiar with his 1960s output that I began to appreciate Willie Nelson — and how much I missed by writing him off for crooning with greasy grannies’ favourites.
Country Music, his T-Bone Burnett-produced tribute to the country songs that reside in the juke box of his memory may be my favourite Nelson collection. Cover albums are a precarious beast. Some artists feel they need to re-interpret, re-invent and update the songs they profess to love. Others will give us the very best in karaoke. Nelson just damn well sings the songs, straight and without bullshit. He knows these songs and their context, and preserves them there. The sound is timeless. And some of the song choices are inspired, including that of one of my all-time favourites, Al Dexter’s Pistol-Packing Mama (which we’ll revisit in the history of country series, as well as the Delmore Brothers’ Freight Train Boogie). I love Nelson’s version of Merle Travis’ Dark As The Dungeons, which is probably better known in Johnny Cash’s version on the Folsom Prison album. (Buy it here)
Willie Nelson – Dark As The Dungeons.mp3
Willie Nelson – Pistol-Packing Mama.mp3
Johnny Cash – American VI – Ain’t No Grave
How much is enough? Seven years after Johnny Cash died, we get another collection of his Rick Rubin-produced American series. Did Cash really die, or is he speaking to us from the beyond, the way Tupac Shakur did with such punctual regularity? Apparently this is the final release in the series, and it is a fine way of going out. There’s nothing new here but the special poignancy of knowing that Cash recorded these ten songs in the four months between the death of his beloved June Carter’s in May 2003 and his own in September, with Cash acutely aware of his mortality without descending into morbidity, and to the end insusting on communicating his deep religious faith. Some songs I can live without (Aloha Oe!), and some cannot compete with the previous versions (Kristofferson’s For The Good Times). But the minimalist arrangements and intimacy of Cash’s fragile yet forceful and soulful voice wrap the songs in a warmth and appealing sense of yearning. Like Pistol-Packing Mama, the original of Cool Water will feature in the history of country very soon.
Johnny Cash – Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream.mp3
Johnny Cash – Cool Water.mp3
Walt Cronin – California I Gotta Run
One of my favourite songs of the last decade was 2005’s A Desperate Cry for Help by the sadly rather obscure and now disbanded alt-country group The Beauty Shop. Walt Cronin’s third album reminds me a lot of the Beauty Shop, right down to his gravelly baritone and lovely Americana arrangements. Already in his 50s — this post so far seems to specialise in grey follicles — Cronin’s voice and sound reflect the experience of life, wistfully and defiantly. “I would never count the days of my life, but I’ll always let the dawn greet my eyes,” the former medic in the Vietnam war sings in Shinin’ Through, one of several sweet love songs on this most appealing set. (Walt Cronin’s homepage)
Walt Cronin – If My Words.mp3
Walt Cronin – Shining Through.mp3
Berry Jones – Tonight
And moving away from silver foxes with guitars, here’s Philadelphia band Berry Jones who wanted to see if “we can try to make Thriller in a basement; like, can we get Quincy Jones-era production techniques on a shoe string budget” (the band’s name pays tribute to Quincy and Berry Gordy). Of course, with modern digital technology it is much easier to produce effects which a Quincy Jones would have to apply his genius to achieve. One need only listen to Sweden’s Loney, Dear to hear what wonderful sounds can be produced by one man in his bedroom (in terms of music, I mean). Indeed, Berry Jones’ opening track, Work It Out, starts a bit like a Loney, Dear song. But quickly it becomes a pop number that recalls the 1980s. It’s all an upbeat stew of different ‘80s influences, from Culture Club and Shalamar to two-tone to indie – and, yeah, Michael Jackson (especially on Philly Nights) — and a dash of Gordy’s Motown. The vocals call to mind The Cure’s Robert Smith. The album might not quite evoke the genius of Quincy Jones, but the first half of it is a fine set of numbers to play while dressing for a party or on the way to the beach, and the soul-infused second half when coming home from the party or from the beach. (Berry Jones’s homepage)
Berry Jones – Philly Nights.mp3
Berry Jones – Your Old Ways.mp3
Dana Wells – The Evergreen EP
Here I’m cheating a bit: The Evergreen EP came out in 2009. But singer-songwriter Dana Wells is so talented, I want to include her in this selection. Dana may be young — just out of her teens — but this is no Taylor Swift. The Washington Post’s reviewer might need a better sub-editor, but suggested rightly that “there’s a settled maturity to the lyrics and tempered voice of this strummy smartie that’s usually reserved for older artists”. Let’s not be put off by the language of “strummy smartie” (who writes that kind of rubbish, and what editor passes it?). Wells is an engaging singer; one wants to get to know her. Her voice and delivery are very appealing, reminiscent of the lovely Mindy Smith. And, somehow, I really like Dana’s diction. It’s not easy for singer-songwriters to break through, but with her talent and beauty, Dana Wells might just be one who will make it big. (Dana Wells on MySpace)
Dana Wells -Watching Winter Melt Away.mp3
Dana Wells – Leave Me.mp3
The Grim Reaper maintained his unwelcome prolific endeavours, adding something of a twist to this month’s proceedings. On August 19, Michael Been, former bassist and singer of 1980s group The Call, died at Belgium’s Pukkelpop festival, where he had acted as the sound engineer for his son’s group, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. The following day, synth popster Charles Haddon, 22, committed suicide after performing at the same festival with his band Ou Est Le Swimming Pool, whose debut album was due for release in October.
The old adage instructs us not to speak ill of the dead. I don’t subscribe to that point of view. I will gladly speak ill of, say, Sid Vicious, and I will not hold my counsel when Dick Cheney finally takes the highway to hell. So while most entries here, as always, are listed in affectionate tribute to doubtless lovable artists, I’m not sure what to make of George Richey, the last husband of Tammy Wynette (who was previously married to George Jones, for whom Richey wrote). Richey allegedly injected Wynette with drugs to keep her performing and supposedly had her brutally assaulted. Or so Tammy’s daughters said when they sued him, unsuccessfully, for the wrongful death of their mother. Richey denied the charges. Wynette stayed with him for two decades until her untimely death in 1998 at 55. Is there no smoke without a fire, or do we take a wife’s loyalty as evidence?
Fact fans might enjoy Bill Phillips’ song and title track of his 1966 album, which was written by a young and already prodigiously talented Dolly Parton.
And so to last month’s departed, with the listed songs all wrapped up in one file for your tributing pleasure.
Richard ‘Scar’ Lopez, 64, member of Cannibal and the Headhunters, on July 30.
Cannibal and the Headhunters – Land Of 1000 Dances (1965)
Mitch Miller, 99, producer, musician, record executive and TV host, on July 31
Mitch Miller – Yellow Rose Of Texas (1955)
Frankie Lane – Mule Train (1949) (as producer)
George Richey, 74, country musician, songwriter, producer, and manager, on July 31
George Jones – I’ll Share My World With You (1969) (as composer)
Mitch Jayne, 82, bassist of country/bluegrass band The Dillards, on August 3
The Dillards – Ebo Walker (1965)
Bobby Hebb, 72, soul singer and composer of Sunny, on August 3
Bobby Hebb – A Satisfied Mind (1966)
Catfish Collins, 66, guitarist with James Brown, Parliament/Funkadelic and Bootsy Collins’ brother, on August 6
Parliament – Flashlight (1977)
Ted Kowalski, 79, singer of Canadian doo-wop band The Diamonds, on August 8
The Diamonds – She Say (Oom Dooby Doom) (1959)
Jack Parnell, 87, British drummer, composer and bandleader of The Muppet Show, on August 8
Theme of The Muppet Show
Ezra Ngcukana, 55, influential South African jazz saxophonist, on August 9
Richie Hayward, 64, drummer of Little Feat, on August 12
Little Feat – Strawberry Flats (1970)
Esteban ‘Steve’ Jordan, 71, accordion wizard, on August 13
Abbey Lincoln, 80, jazz singer and actress, on August 14
Abbey Lincoln – As Long As You’re Living (1959)
Robert Wilson, 53, bassist of The Gap Band, on August 15
The Gap Band – Outstanding (1983)
Mac Tontoh, 69, trumpeter and chief songwriter of Afro-fusion band Osibisa, on August 17
Osibisa – Sunshine Day (1975)
Kenny Edwards, 64, singer-songwriter and member of folk-rock band The Stone Poneys (with a young Linda Ronstadt), on August 18
The Stone Poneys – Different Drum (1967)
Dick Maloney, 77, Canadian singer, on August 19
Dick Maloney – Late Night Bar
Michael Been, 60, member of ’80s group The Call, on August 19
The Call – Let The Day Begin (1989)
Charles Haddon, 22, member of British synthpop Ou Est Le Swimming Pool, of on August 20
Ou Est Le Swimming Pool – Dance The Way I Feel (2009)
George David Weiss, 89, co-composer of hits such as What a Wonderful World, Can’t Help Falling in Love, and the ripped-off The Lion Sleeps Tonight, on August 23
Ella Fitzgerald – Lullaby of Birdland (1955) (as lyricist)
Bill Phillips, 74, country singer, on August 23
Bill Phillips (with Dolly Parton) – Put It Off Until Tomorrow (1966)
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