Songs Of The Week 2020: Take 3

Neil Morton


Crawl Into The Promised Land: Rosanne Cash with John Leventhal

When Rosanne Cash sings ‘Deliver me from tweets and lies’, there can be only one person she has in mind. But her timely new track, Crawl Into The Promised Land, our Song Of The Week at, has a broader context than the US election.

Trump v Biden is the backdrop but this is a deeper, multi-layered soundtrack, written by Cash and her guitarist-producer husband John Leventhal. Amid the despair, isolation and fear of the pandemic and the protests over police brutality, she offers cautious hope of salvaging the American dream.

Leventhal’s gorgeous guitar (in fact he plays all the instruments) and that southern rootsy melody ‘convey all the urgency, faith, outrage and power’ felt by Cash in the pressure cooker of their New York lockdown in April and May. ‘I kept thinking of the model in physics where things have to fall apart in order to reassemble themselves in a more refined, ordered state.’

It was fortunate they had a recording studio in the basement, with the means to ‘articulate the division, the suffering born of racism, and the suffering born of Covid’ through music. Cash, one of America’s great liberal voices and a revered songwriter, says in a handwritten essay unveiling the single on her website: ‘I want to run away from the moment, to look back at this time decades in the future and understand it, and see that we rose to our best selves.’

The song’s chorus echoes that optimism...

And don’t it feel like home

Don’t it feel like we belong

You gotta lift your head and raise your hand

And crawl into the promised land

There's a verse about ‘grifters with cruel intentions, people who operate out of greed and the most base ambitions, people who value power over human lives, and shockingly do not suffer the consequences of wielding that power’.

Sarah Jarosz and their son Jakob Leventhal provide backings vocals as the potent accompanying video flicks through images of family, ancestors, women activists, civil rights marchers, the cotton fields and a country at war. ‘I'm angry and bewildered that our leaders consider me and many others the enemy. I am a patriot. Every generation of my family has served this country, back to the 18th century.

‘The trashing of norms, the abdication of dignity, values and true leadership torments me. I want to see the American dream become the American reality. I need more time to understand what happened, why we elected such an unfit person to guide us, why we kill black people with impunity, why our leaders dismantle and mock every institution we have painstakingly erected to hold us safe.’

Only in our dreams we had

Faith in bigger lives and plans

We put away those broken vows

To crawl into the promised land

United State Of Mind: Robin Trower-Maxi Priest-Livingstone Brown

When an old rock guitar hero tells you it’s one of the best tracks he’s been involved with, you take notice. Robin Trower is referring to United State of Mind, our Song Of The Week at It’s the title track of his latest project that turned into a collaborative gem.

Trower, the former Procol Harum guitarist whose 1974 album Bridge Of Sighs as frontman to The Robin Trower Band remains essential listening, teamed up with London neighbour Maxi Priest, a giant of reggae fusion, and Livingstone Browne, producer and multi-instrumentalist, in the latter’s Brixton studio to create blues and funk that is slick but always soulful.

Strings announce United State Of Mind but there isn’t a synth to be heard. Priest’s soaring and swooping velvet vocal dovetails silkily with Trower’s virtuoso playing – all tone, texture and economy with echoes of Hendrix minus the pyrotechnics. Brown’s bass lines, horns and versatile flourishes complete the joyful mix.

Priest, who had a US No1 hit with Close To You, describes an unlikely alliance: ‘Three different minds came together trying to create a unification that we can give as a gift to the world… I’m overwhelmed and proud of this album. It’s all live instrumentation – fully organic music.’ United State Of Mind is the album’s opening track and its groove grabs you and never lets go…

I don’t need no company

Horizon be my friend

My wildest thoughts I’d follow

To the end

On a lonely highway

This world is mine

On a lonely highway

This united state of mind, state of mind

Brown has worked with a diverse collection of artists from Ed Sheeran, Bryan Ferry and Kylie Minogue to Tina Turner, Bill Withers and The Waterboys. He has played with Trower and Priest on and off for 30 years. ‘I’d always tried to keep the two of them separate,’ the producer told the black music monthly Echoes. ‘I just thought they were two separate worlds and there wouldn’t be a lot of commonality there. But then one day Robin was leaving the studio as Maxi turned up, and sparks started flying.’

The 75-year-old Trower was surprised how easily he adapted to a more soulful setting. ‘The music was a bit of a challenge because I had to find something that Maxi would feel comfortable with and that would suit my guitar playing. But after the first couple of songs we hit on a formula. We began to realise how it could work and we had a great time doing it. A lot of the melodies and phrasing are R&B influenced and we used that, together with mellow chord sequences. That’s the combination and Maxi went right in there. It came completely natural to him.’

For further examples of their emotional synergy, listen to the driving On Fire Like Zsa Zsa, the political Sunrise Revolution (‘Too many politicians/ Answers way too few/ Taking up positions/ Not for me, not for me and you’) and the beguiling ballads Bring It All Back To You and Where Our Love Came From.

This album set out to celebrate a shared history. The rest was chemistry.

We Believe You: Diana Jones

The displaced could not have found a more eloquent champion than Nashville singer-songwriter Diana Jones. Her plea for compassion, We Believe You, is our Song Of The Week at A track from her thematic sixth solo album Song To A Refugee.

Jones enlists the plaintive voices of Steve Earle, Richard Thompson and Peggy Seeger to take turns in projecting the powerful message, a subtle yet unambiguous response to the lazy scapegoating of asylum seekers and refugees by increasingly authoritarian governments. It is deeply troubling that politicians here contemplated establishing a processing facility on an island thousands of miles away.

There is soulfulness and sensitivity in Jones’s delivery but she grants Thompson the most poignant verse...

I believe you were starving in the desert

All the water had been poured out on the ground

I believe you had no voice

I believe you had no choice

When everything you love was burning down

The song’s title was inspired by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s visit to a US-Mexico border detention centre and her testimony in Washington when she declared: ‘I believe these women.’ Jones had been suffering from writer’s block after a serious illness caused by a gas leak in her apartment until she was moved by the humanitarian work of British actor Dame Emma Thompson.

‘The devastating election of 2016 had left myself and many of my artist friends unable to respond creatively. During the spring of 2018 I landed back in New York after a tour with no new songs… I don’t think anyone could have called me out of my writer’s block the way Emma did and I began to write the stories that I found so devastating, one voice at a time. My own need to re-humanise the people who were being dehumanised by governments and the press resulted in a flood of songs.’

Jones knows all about dislocation. Adopted and raised in Long Island, she was later reunited with her birth family in rural Tennessee, tracing her musical roots to her maternal grandfather, Robert Lee Maranville, who sang in a Knoxville band with Chet Atkins. Her 2006 album My Remembrance Of You and 2013’s Museum Of Appalachia Recording explored that heritage. Her own experience as an adopted child would always feed her sympathy for the bruised and damaged lives of families fractured by US border guards.

Jones has been compared to Gillian Welch, Alison Krauss, Joan Baez, Iris DeMent and Nanci Griffith but the American emphasises an earlier influence, Ginny Hawker. Produced by David Mansfield, who contributes exquisite fiddle and mandolin, Song To A Refugee exudes tenderness, empathy and hope within the framework of traditional-sounding country-folk melodies. The mood could have been angrier but her restraint is a far more effective instrument of protest.

Traumatic tales of hardships are deftly observed here. The Sea Is My Mother describes a perilous crossing by two sisters in a boat, escaping a living hell only to risk another. Jones’s storytelling powers are at their strongest in the heart-rending I Wait For You, again featuring Thompson, which tells of a Sudanese forced by her father to marry at the age of 13. Desperation drives her to leave her children behind and seek a better, safer life in England via a detention centre, hoping to send for them later…

You have all my heart

Though we’re far apart

Some day I hope you'll understand

It can be safely assumed that no track on Song To A Refugee will be on Priti Patel’s playlist. Disbelievers, have a heart.

I Believe In Music: Mac Davis

The American songwriter Mac Davis, who died in Nashville this week at the age of 78, was renowned for the hits he composed for Elvis Presley, especially In The Ghetto, A Little Less Conversation, Don’t Cry Daddy and Memories. But our Song Of The Week at is his signature song, the uplifting, gospel-tinged I Believe In Music, with which he closed out every live show. Shake your tambourine...

Davis, born in Buddy Holly’s hometown of Lubbock, Texas, made his break in Los Angeles as a songwriter with Nancy Sinatra’s publishing company, Boots Enterprises (made for walking?) before signing for Columbia Records in 1970, the year he wrote I Believe In Music. In an interview in 2017 he described how the idea for the song came to him at a party at the London home of Lulu and her then husband Maurice Gibb:

‘I went to the kitchen and fixed myself a drink. There was a bunch of hippie types who were gonna have a séance. They asked me if I’d like to join them, and I said: No man, I don’t think so. It wasn’t my thing. Then someone asked: Don’t you believe in the occult? I said: No, man, I believe in music. The second I said it… I just went: I believe in music. I looked around… it was like a God-shot. I saw one of Maurice’s guitars sitting on a stand. I picked it up and started strumming it. I had the hook before I left there.’

Music is the universal language, and love is the key

To peace, hope and understanding, and living in harmony

So take your brother by the hand and come along with me

Lift your voices to the sky, tell me what you see

The country-pop crossover artist had a string of hits as a performer including Baby, Don’t Get Hooked On Me, which reached No1 in the States, Stop And Smell The Roses, Texas In My Rear View Mirror and Hooked On Music. But it was his association with Elvis which will be forever remembered and revered. He could have dined out forever on tales of his classic In The Ghetto, gratefully received not only by Elvis but more than 150 other singers.

The back story was as memorable as Lulu’s party. Asked by Elvis to write a follow-up song to Memories, which was Davis’s first top 40 hit and composed within a deadline of a single night, the Texan followed up with a haunting song about racial inequality, inspired by his childhood friend, Smitty Junior, the son of a black labourer who worked for his father in Alabama.

‘Smitty Junior was my age and he and I used to play together,’ he told American Songwriter. ‘Our daddies would be working, and in the summertime Smitty would hang out with me. They lived in a really funky dirt street ghetto. They had dirt streets and broken glass everywhere. I couldn’t understand how these kids could run around barefoot on all that broken glass; I was wondering why they had to live that way and I lived another way.’

In The Ghetto was about the cycle of poverty and ‘being born into a situation where you have no hope’. Davis added: ‘If you listen to the song, it’s more poignant now than it was then. Instead of getting better it’s gotten worse. Back then we had gangs and violence in a few cities, now we have it in almost every American city.’

Davis’s I Believe In Music anthem, the title track of his second studio album, was a 1972 success for the soft-rock band Gallery but the first commercial recording of the song was made by Australia’s finest Helen Reddy who died on the same day at the same age as Davis. It appeared as a B-side to her first US hit, I Don’t Know How To Love Him. She and Mac believed in music. Forever linked.

Ghosts: Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band

Bruce Springsteen’s latest release is a love letter to rock ‘n’ roll and a lament for lost bandmates. The gloriously pulsating Ghosts is our Song Of The Week at Springsteen sings: ‘I can feel the blood shiver in my bones.’ We share the sensation.

Close your eyes and you can picture him crowd-surfing at one of the E Street Band’s sold-out arenas; this is a throwback to classic Spector-esque Springsteen and the ‘best bar band in the world’. Ghosts is the second advanced track from his forthcoming album Letter To You – the impassioned title track was the first. All 12 numbers, nine new compositions and three reworkings of unreleased material from the early 70s, were recorded live in Bruce’s home studio in New Jersey within five days.

It’s the first recorded music featuring the band since 2014’s High Hopes. There are no overdubs, save a few licks from The Boss’s Gretsch electric guitar. Springsteen, 71 this week, describes his 20th studio album as ‘one of the greatest recording experiences I've had’. The sessions were held last November when it was thought a tour would follow. Then the world shut down. Working from home ‘isn’t something I’d want to make a career out of’.

Max Weinberg’s drum intro seizes your senses. A snap of the fingers and that voice takes the baton ahead of the rest of the band:

I hear the sound of your guitar

Coming from the mystic far...

A chord change before the chorus – hardly a bridge too near – gets to the crux:

It’s your ghost moving through the night

Your spirit filled with light

I need, need you by my side

Your love and I’m alive

The ghosts in the song and accompanying video are departed E Street veterans Danny Federici and Clarence Clemons but also members of Springsteen’s first band, The Castiles, where ‘I learned almost the entirety of my craft’. Springsteen was hired as a lead guitarist but tensions grew with established frontman singer George Theiss as he sought more of the mic.  When The Castiles disbanded in 1968, Theiss kept playing in clubs while working as a carpenter. Springsteen found the superstardom Theiss no doubt dreamed of.

Now Bruce is the last Castile standing. ‘You can’t think about it without thinking of your own mortality,’ he told Rolling Stone in a wide-ranging interview. ‘Once you hit 70, theres a finite amount of tours and a finite amount of years that you have. I feel the band is capable of playing at the very, very top, or better than, of its game right now. And I feel as vital as Ive ever felt. I plan to have a long road in front of me. Ive got a lot left to do.

The new songs were written with an acoustic guitar given to him by a fan at the stage door during the Broadway one-man shows. Springsteen reveals that future projects include work on full-length ‘lost’ albums as well as countless out-takes which can be revisited and revised. His favourite song on Letter To You is the intriguingly titled House Of A Thousand Guitars, about a rock ‘n’ roll heaven on earth where the music never ends. October 23 cannot come quickly enough.

Not A Day Goes By: The Eddy

If you haven’t seen Netflix series The Eddy, a drama about an endangered jazz club on the fringes of Paris, you’re missing out. Song Of The Week at is Not A Day Goes By, un uplifting song performed at the wake for a murdered musician by his beloved bandmates.

The soundtrack was written by Grammy-winning songwriter Glen Ballard and Randy Kerber, pianist in the house band at the mythical club, especially built and doubling up as a recording studio. Director of the first two episodes of the eight-part series is jazz fan Damien Chazelle who creates the intimate template employing hand-held cameras. This is a far grittier, less glamorous world than La La Land but Chazelle certainly knows how to capture the joy of performance.

The engaging story was written by Jack Thorne (Skins, This Is England, His Dark Materials, Harry Potter And The Cursed Child). Most of the professional musicians haven’t acted before but you wouldn’t know. The plot follows the fortunes of club owner and band manager Elliot Udo, brilliantly played by American actor André Holland (star of Moonlight, the movie embroiled in that infamous Oscar mix-up with La La Land), as he battles to protect The Eddy and his family and friends from a violent, acquisitive gang.

Not A Day Goes By is delivered by Polish actor-singer Joanna Kulig who fronts the band with gusto (‘I didn’t know/ That all the days were numbered/ I let it go/ And on and on I slumbered’). She is fine with the uptempo numbers such as Bar Fly and Kiss Me In The Morning but sometimes the mood calls for a more sultry tone and the soundtrack album includes extra voices such as St Vincent, aka Annie Clark, with her version of the beguiling title track, Jorja Smith and the band's original singer Julia Harriman on the gorgeous Paris In September.

The disparate cast in this unromantic look at life in the multicultural banlieues care for each other, and we care about them. Each episode is told through the eyes of a different character, and while the dialogue flits between French, English and Arabic the main accent is musical. On screen most music is played to a backing track but in The Eddy it’s all live – and so authentic.

The project was the brainchild of Ballard whose has lived in Paris and loves its jazz scene and scratch-a-living musicians. It began with the songs he and musical director Kerber wrote, more than 60, 39 of which Thorne interweaved with his screenplay. Ballard, who has worked with Michael Jackson, Alan Silvestri and Alanis Morissette, told Collider: ‘I’m just gratified that Netflix allowed us to do it live. We brought together this incredible international jazz band, with a female drummer from Croatia, a bass player from Cuba, a sax player from Haiti, a pianist from California, a trumpeter from Paris, and a singer from Poland. They’re a real band now.

Netflix essentially built a club for me. It was my fantasy club, and we put a recording studio behind the stage, so that everything we did in there was really well recorded... I just wanted it to be about this new, fresh take on what jazz could be in Paris right now. It’s multicultural. It’s a dream come true for me, as a songwriter, to be able to fulfil this part of my artistic destiny.

Ballard’s lyrical skill is best displayed in the title track...

A vortex of sound

Revolving around

Dissolving you down to

The Eddy...

Here’s where we dare

To strip it all bare

Sit with your truth

Dark corner booth

Keep slipping slow

In the strong undertow of

The Eddy

If the world ever returns to normal, the band hope to tour as The Eddy. Jazz may win a few more converts.

Arguing With Ghosts: Ben Glover

Arguing With Ghosts was written by three lauded songwriters in Gretchen Peters, Ben Glover and Matraca Berg. Peters was first to record it on her Dancing With The Beast album in 2018. Now it’s Glover’s turn, and his haunting rendition is our Song Of The Week at

The advanced single is from the Nashville-based Northern Irishman’s forthcoming EP Sweet Wild Lily. Providing delicious harmonies is Kim Richey with whom he toured the UK two years ago. We saw them perform at London’s Green Note, taking it in turns to display the quality of their repertoires, and Arguing With Ghosts was one of the standouts of their set.

Glover explains the genesis of the track: ‘When the three of us got together to write, we started talking about how the skyline and feel of Nashville have changed so much over recent years, and that conversation sparked the theme of losing a sense of the familiar. The character in the song has experienced personal loss and ruminates about the passing of time, wrangling with the tangible and the intangible.’

Glover’s recording is stripped back and intimate. He salutes the role played by cousin Colm McClean in Belfast who beautifully embellishes the vocals and acoustic guitar backing track. ‘I knew I could trust him to lay down what was needed 7,500 miles away from me in Nashville. The sonic landscape he created is intense.’

The song features one of my favourite refrains...

The years go by like days

Sometimes the days go by like years

And I don’t know which one I hate the most

At this same old kitchen table

In this same old busted chair

I’m drinking whisky and arguing with ghosts

Arguing with ghosts

Glover’s milestone year was 2018 when his Shorebound album was released to wide acclaim, winning Album of the Year at the UK Americana Awards. It was a series of brilliant collaborations: Dancing With The Beast with Peters again, the gorgeous A Wound That Seeks The Arrow with Angel Snow, Catbird Seat with Mary Gauthier, Ride The River with Richey and Keeper Of My Heart with Robert Vincent. Last year he teamed up with his Orphan Brigade friends Joshua Britt and Nielson Hubbard for an impressive third album To The Edge Of The World, recorded in a church in Glover’s home village of Glenarm on the rugged County Antrim coast. The trio recruited some talented friends, including guitarist McClean and the late John Prine.

We discussed the memorable Peters version of Arguing With Ghosts here. Glover tweaks ‘I’ve still got my mama’s eyes’ to ‘my father’s eyes’ and Peters’ coffee is turned into whisky. The musical concoctions are equally strong.

Jody: A Girl Called Eddy

Devotees shouldn’t have had to wait 16 years for another helping of sophisticated soul-pop songs from Erin Moran, aka A Girl Called Eddy. But it was worth it. Song Of The Week at is Jody, a brass-adorned tribute to a lost drummer friend which is as joyful as it is melancholic.

Before the opening title track of Been Around crackles into life, a voice asks: Girl, where you been? We’d longed to hear that cosy, dreamy voice again since her Richard Hawley-produced self-titled debut album. New Jersey native Moran co-wrote some of the 12 songs with multi-instrumentalist producer Daniel Tashian of The Silver Seas who recruited accomplished Nashville support from vocalists The Watson Twins, bassist Viktor Krauss, composer Bill DeMain, lap steel guitarist Shez Sheridan, trumpeter Michael Leonhardt and saxophonist Jim Hoke who blows a beautiful chromatic harmonica solo.

Moran speaks highly of Tashian’s creative influence in an interview on her website: ‘Daniel’s quite a Todd Rundgren character in that he plays every instrument, is a great writer and can pull out of his hat any style you can think of. I’d go: I’m thinking this one could be a bit Rickie Lee Jones with some ELO in the middle eight, but with a wash of blue to it, and he’d be like: OK, cool, got it! And he does. He gets it on all the levels you’d want from someone you’re trusting your songs with.’

This is storytelling pop with emotional depth and imaginative key shifts...

Jody said he had a brother, wrote a song for Peggy Lee

Jody moved down south to Tallapoosa back in 2003

I never saw his face again on Greene Street, not a trace again

Jody didn’t like everybody but I’m glad he liked me

We talked about movies and Cuddles Sakall

Hours on the phone about nothing at all

He liked to call me kid

I liked it when he did

The album pays homage to her heroes and influences. While Jody evokes Steely Dan and The Delines, elsewhere she tips her elegant hats to Burt Bacharach (a life-long idol with whom Tashian worked on Blue Umbrella), Karen Carpenter, Dusty Springfield, Laura Nyro, Carole King, Jackie DeShannon, Scott Walker, Chrissie Hynde, George Michael, Rumer and Prefab Sprout. The gorgeous ballad Charity Shop Window (a collaboration with Paul Williams who wrote many of The Carpenters’ hits) recalls Paul McCartney or Ray Davies.

She saw his coat in the charity shop window

Where the past lives on at a bargain price

Long ago dreams find another chance to live again

In the ironically titled Finest Actor, about a romance that turned sour, Moran delivers her most memorable lines...

He moved like De Niro and talked like O'Toole

Inside I was scared but he made me feel cool

He smelled of tobacco, guilt, and red wine

And sooner or later the guilt it was mine…

He could’ve been Burton, Harris, or Dean

They could’ve been moments, but they were just scenes

There are charming reminders here of Moran’s first album back in 2004 (Don Henley’s favourite that year) – listen to People Used To Dream. With Elefant Records in the room there were strong signals of a keenly-awaited solo comeback in 2018 when Moran teamed up with French musician Medhi Zannad, who records under the name FUGU, for an indie-pop project entitled The Last Detail (not the Jack Nicholson film). Another gift for her cult following.

The other uptempo standout on Been Around, which was recorded in Nashville, New York and London, is the fairground nostalgia ride, Come To The Palisades! It begins with an Alabama Shakes-style guitar riff before the horns send it down the rollercoaster (‘Death-defying kisses in the funhouse/ We got drunk on love and beer/ A polaroid of you from 1982’). Note the Coney Island nod to Van Morrison. Not derivative, just respectful and lovingly retro.

‘I was feeling a yellow-tinged, Kodachrome kind of 70s pull at my heart. Not necessarily wanting to make a happier record but a different one. I no longer felt the need to be drowning in the darkness all the time, which I guess was the prevailing vibe on a lot of album one. I wanted a warmer feel, and to have some fun… turns out it’s not the shallow pursuit I used to think it was.’ We hope the vibrancy of Been Around means A Girl Called Eddy will stay around for a lot longer.

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