FEATURED SONGS OF THE WEEK
Western Stars: Bruce Springsteen
Western Stars, the title track from Bruce Springsteen's 19th studio album, is Song Of The Week at Here Comes The Song. The Boss takes a quiet slip road off E Street, transporting me back to Friday night treats in the late 50s-early 60s watching cowboy films in the local fleapit picture house with my brother and late father.
Springsteen plays a washed-up B-movie actor reduced to TV commercial work. The films I recall before an appreciation of native American injustices had been acquired always seemed to star John Wayne, Gary Cooper or Jack Palance. There's a Wayne reference in Western Stars...
Once I was shot by John Wayne, yeah, it was towards the end
That one scene's brought me a thousand drinks
Set me up and I'll tell it for you, friend
Swirling strings and French horn, too lush for some diehards' liking, adorn a California detour album which grows on you. There are deliberate echoes of Roy Orbison on There Goes My Miracle and Bruce is positively crooning too on Sundown.
Hello Sunshine has been described as a nod to the songs Jimmy Webb wrote for Glen Campbell although strains of Fred Neil's Everybody's Talkin' which brought Nilsson a big hit and particularly Danny O'Keefe's majestic Good Time Charlie's Got The Blues can be heard too.
The effect of the orchestral arrangements on Western Stars is more Bacharach than Spector and recall those celebrated cinematic scores by Max Steiner or Elmer Bernstein from my innocent Friday night jaunts. As the credits roll, as if switching from big screen to the Broadway stage he made his own during an extraordinary one-man show, Springsteen gently touches base with his bleak masterpiece, Nebraska, with the wistful, wonderful Midnight Motel.
Most of Springsteen's narrators are broken or damaged, drifters or fallers on hard times, telling stories of dusty, musty nostalgia. On Drive Fast (The Stuntman) time has caught up up with a faded performer, which could be a metaphor for Springsteen's own longevity – he turns 70 soon.
I got two pins in my ankle and a busted collarbone
A steel rod in my leg, but it walks me home
However, the indefatigable rock 'n' roll showman insists he is heading back to the studio with his band. Glory days haven't passed us by yet.
Ian Malin on Bruce Springsteen here
Neil Morton on Danny O'Keefe here
You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go: Bob Dylan
Dedicated to Emily Eavis, co-organiser of the fantastic logistical beast that is the Glastonbury Festival, Song Of The Week at Here Comes The Song is Bob Dylan's You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go, her leading selection as castaway on Desert Island Discs.
One of Dylan's many masterpieces about lost love – and that's just from his 1975 album Blood On The Tracks – the song was chosen in memory of her mother Jean who died before the 1999 festival. Emily put her teaching studies in London on hold to help father Michael, the festival's founder, at Worthy Farm in Somerset. She eventually stayed home for good, such was the pull of the annual party in her garden.
She told Lauren Laverne: 'Mum is so much part of it for me now, still. It has come from such a family thing. She was always looking after people.' Welfare is vitally important at Glasto, where 200,000 fans have flocked, with 3,000 acts performing on 100 stages. Gender equality is another ambition – the current line-up is 42 per cent female.
Dylan's stripped-back song, his acoustic guitar and harmonica backed only by Tony Brown's bass, has prompted multiple interpretations. There are poignant lines but, to this listener, he sounds almost breezily resigned to further romantic pain. The writer scoffed at the critics' view that the album was autobiographical by mischievously suggesting it was based on the short stories of Anton Chekhov.
The slower, solo bootleg version of You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome on the recent single-CD collection More Blood, More Tracks is compelling too. The phrasing of his singing and writing is exquisite. And there's always a cheeky killer rhyme:
I'll look for you in old Honolula
San Francisco, Ashtabula
You're gonna have to leave me now, I know
But I'll see you in the sky above
In the tall grass, in the ones I love
You're gonna make me lonesome when you go
Talking of Dylan, I had en enjoyable evening in Hastings listening to a whole set of the master's songs by an old bandmate of mine, John Pearson. John was performing in memory of a friend and Dylan devotee who died recently. The blues guitarist and his excellent band, The Wicked Messengers (Jem Turpin on harmonica, Colin Gibson on bass and Sacha Trochet on drums) even had the packed pub audience dancing, and not just to the rousing Rainy Day Women.
Blood On The Tracks has so many standouts apart from Emily Eavis's desert island choice – Simple Twist Of Fate, Shelter From The Storm, If You See Her, Say Hello. John and the Wicked Messengers (note the nod to the John Wesley Harding album) covered another, Buckets Of Rain. In Hastings it was a case of one bloody great track after another.
More on John Pearson here
Martin Pengelly on Dylan's Most Of The Time
Neil Morton on Dylan's My Back Pages
My Quicksand: Elton John
To mark Sir Elton John's Légion d'Honneur accolade, France's highest civilian award, for his charity work in the fight against Aids, our Song Of The Week at Here Comes The Song is My Quicksand, a powerful track from his 2013 album The Diving Board. John had taken the plunge for a new, highly creative chapter in his career. After all the frustrating record company wrangles, there was now no urgent requirement for radio hits.
The songwriting knight told Rolling Stone after the album's release: 'I thought that's the best track I've recorded. Piano-wise, vocal-wise, everything about it... I knew that I'd moved forward – this is the kind of song I never thought I'd be singing when I started out. My days of making pop records like Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player, they were when I was younger. I'm not that guy anymore. I'm this guy. It's the most honest record I've ever made.'
He revealed that the lovely piano solo had been improvised, never failing to salute the contribution of his long-time writing cohort Bernie Taupin whose lyric is compelling. A portrait of the solo artist as a double act.
The 72-year-old musician is enjoying a seemingly endless world farewell tour while a biopic about his life and turbulent times, Rocketman, is playing at cinemas. In My Quicksand, a lament to a poet confronting failure in his life, he references the French capital: 'I went to Paris once, I thought I had a plan, I woke up with an accent, I wound up in quicksand.'
In a Rolling Stone interview, Taupin explained the process behind the creation of My Quicksand: 'I had the title and I thought: This is a good metaphor for sinking in a relationship. I started off with that, and whatever came into my mind that was relevant was the first couple of lines. some of my songs could be three songs in one. You can get a triple metaphor in a song where it’s relatable on different levels to different people. I always like to have a little mystery in the songs, where you can’t quite tell.'
The Diving Board, John's 30th album, was a game-changer, sparingly produced by the great T Bone Burnett, who had been at the controls for John's collaboration with his early-career hero Leon Russell, 2010's The Union, which featured the memorable American civil war song Gone To Shiloh and a cameo by Neil Young. That favourite track of mine was a throwback to 1970's Tumbleweed Connection (remember My Father's Gun?) and to the music of The Band.
The former Reginald Dwight received his award in Paris from President Macron, stressing that 'the things that bind us are stronger than those that divide us'. A Brexit reference? Don't get him started on that subject. Famously pro-European, he told his audience in Verona he was ashamed the UK had voted for it. 'It's torn people apart.'
John told his Elysées Palace audience: 'I have a huge love affair with France, I have a house here, I've always loved coming here, I love the French culture, the way of life and the French people.' Guess that's why they call them Les Bleus.
Midnight Sun: Calexico/Iron & Wine
A meeting of musical minds – between Calexico's Joey Burns and John Convertino and Iron & Wine's Sam Beam – provides Song Of The Week at Here Comes The Song with the lovely Midnight Sun from their latest joint enterprise Years To Burn.
Arizona roots-rockers Calexico first collaborated with Carolina singer-songwriter Beam 14 years ago for an atmospheric EP entitled In The Reins. The long wait for a sequel is rewarded with an understated album of warm, whispered vocals and clever writing.
Midnight Sun has a mystical folklore feel with hints of psychedelia. Calexico colleagues Jacob Valenzuela (trumpet) and Paul Niehaus (pedal steel) with Beam cohorts Rob Burger (piano) and Sebastian Steinberg (bass) add Latin-infused texture to Burns' guitar and Convertino's drumming for an album produced at the fabled Sound Emporium in Nashville in five days.
Midnight Sun has a cinematic quality – you can sense the shimmering desert mirage as its intriguing lyric unfolds:
Well, a woman appeared
With a guillotine smile
She handed him a rose
Then he turned to stone
Burns explained how the song evolved: 'Sam sent some demos the week before we met to record the album. Based on the feel of those demos I wrote Midnight Sun the day I got to Nashville. I arrived at our rental house the day before everyone else and was happy to find a piano, old pump organ, and guitar to do some writing. I was up late and came up with a tune that would bridge both bands’ worlds. I started with a drone in F# and was curious as to where it would take me.'
It took him to cosmic territory. While Midnight Sun is classic Burns-inspired Calexico, What Heaven's Left and the title track highlight Beam's delicate creativity. The hushed vocal trading of Burns and Beam is so natural, instead of doing things by halves perhaps the bands should make this reunion permanent.
It's well worth catching Calexico with Iron & Wine at the Cambridge Folk Festival in August or during their November UK tour, notably their London Jazz Festival date at the Royal Festival Hall.
4 June 1989: Mary Chapin Carpenter
In the week of the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, we revisit Mary Chapin Carpenter's evocative account of a harrowing day, 4 June 1989, which is our Song Of The Week at Here Comes The Song.
The mouthpiece for the story is a 17-year-old soldier, Chen Guang, a painter turned activist, who was ordered to shoot at a throng of student protesters during the infamous Chinese military crackdown on the pro-democracy movement. Over a thousand people were killed.
The song appears on the revered American songwriter's 2010 album Age Of Miracles. The soldier risked punishment by the communist authorities for telling the New York Times in 2009: 'We were assured there would be no legal consequences if we opened fire. My only hope was that the students would not put up a fight. I can assure you I didn't shoot anyone.'
The interview was the inspiration for Carpenter's poignantly crafted lyric:
I told them not to fear me but history tells the tale
The artists and poets fill up every jail
Before I held a knife I held an artist's brush
Before Tiananmen I even dreamed of love...
Ah, I was seventeen that spring
Ah, we were just obeying orders
Ah, I still see everything
Chen used his art to help him come to terms with the trauma and suppressed memories of that day, and to maintain the focus on an episode the nation's leaders preferred to be forgotten. The whitewash was official. 'For 20 years I tried to bury this episode,' he said, 'but the older you get the more these things float to the surface. It's time for my experiences, my truth, to be shared with the rest of the world.'
The veteran folk singer Joan Baez was moved by the incident, recording the powerful China, which appeared on Speaking Of Dreams in 1989. She dedicated the album to the Tiananmen Square students...
But it seems that the Spring this year in Beijing
Came just before the Fall
There was no summer at all
In Tiananmen Square
Baez is a big fan of Carpenter's music and was thrilled to be offered the magnificent Stones In The Road by her friend. Baez recorded it first (on her Play Me Backwards album) but Carpenter's version is the definitive one and ranks among her finest work which includes I Am A Town, Mrs Hemingway, I Have A Need For Solitude, Goodnight America, Transcendental Reunion, The Dreaming Road and Deep Deep Down Heart, which I've written about here.
Halt The Wagons: Kate Rusby
The beloved Barnsley folk singer-songwriter Kate Rusby is adept at reviving an old story and melting your heart in the process. Halt The Wagons from her 17th studio album Philosophers, Poets & Kings is Song Of The Week at herecomesthesong.com. A haunting lullaby.
Rusby's composition marks the 180th anniversary of the Huskar Pit disaster in which 26 children aged from seven to 17 perished when a freak storm flooded the mine shaft. The incident led Queen Victoria to outlaw underground work for under-10s. Aptly, 26 members of Barnsley Youth Choir voice their sadness.
Rusby performed it recently at London's Kings Place and left goosebumps and throat-lumps. The video shows Rusby, her excellent band and the choir underground at the National Coal Mining Museum of England paying homage to the village of Silkstone. Her husband Damien O'Kane's subtle electric tenor guitar is suitably plaintive.
During her London concert Rusby promoted her Under The Stars festival in South Yorkshire, reminding us that some of her songs favoured the very Yorkshire key of B flat – 'because it's A up'.
God's own country singer confirms her versatility with traditional reimaginings such as the joyous Jenny (a nag-to-riches story about a horse that wins against all odds) and modern covers which even include an Oasis song. Here's the upbeat title track, which should be the theme tune of wine lovers everywhere. 'If it wasn't for wine, we couldn't sing...' Cheers to that.
The Revisionist: Thea Gilmore
In these turbulent times it can be rewarding to turn to our favourite songwriters. Song Of The Week at herecomesthesong.com is the wonderful Thea Gilmore’s bitingly political The Revisionist from her 16th album, Small World Turning.
Feel the anger of one of the country’s finest lyricists and most important voices on the state of the nation as she tackles endemic racism and the frightening march of the new right:
‘Throwing hatred like confetti
Drinking populism neat...
I’d love to trust your motives
But I haven’t got the faith
‘Cause you do a great impression
Of a really bad mistake’
The album of 11 new songs is a match for Gilmore’s earlier classics The Counterweight and Ghosts & Graffiti. The combative tracks – The Revisionist and Cutteslowe Walls – contrast with exquisite ballads such as Karr’s Lament, Don’t Dim Your Light For Anyone and Grandam Gold, featuring the divine harmonies and whistle playing of Cara Dillon.
Cutteslowe Walls is almost as cutting as The Revisionist. It tells of a dark period of history in Gilmore's home city of Oxford, the building during the 1930s and removal two decades later of high spike-topped walls dividing a council estate from private property. Gilmore uses the infamous walls as a metaphor for the rich-poor divide and the other barriers and boundaries society keeps erecting.
Her singing on Karr's Lament, especially its hypnotic refrain 'The road rolls on', is a joy. The imagery is typically clever: 'The water’s sewing sequins on the glass' and 'the poundstore Romeos all want a fight, Their breath thick with Jaegerbombs and appetite'.
Intimacy and tenderness make Don't Dim Your Light, a message of hope for her children, another standout. 'When living feels like hit and run, Don't dim your light for anyone'. The gifted Gilmore's light shines ever bright.
Love Like There's No Tomorrow: The War and Treaty
Soulful double act The War And Treaty provide Song Of The Week at herecomesthesong.com with Love Like There's No Tomorrow from their debut album, Healing Tide. Married couple Michael and Tanya Trotter deliver the gospel song with a compelling raw power.
The Trotters have received two 2019 nominations by the Americana Music Association in Nashville in the best duo/group and emerging act categories. Healing Tide, produced live in Buddy Miller's studio in five days, is a joyous declaration of love and hope. They have been likened to Sly & The Famile Stone – and to Ike and Tina Turner without the vitriol. A better world is possible is the message.
While on a tour of duty in Iraq post 9/11, reluctant soldier Michael Trotter Jr was given the job of paying tribute in song to fallen fellow comrades. Officers had noted his obvious musical talent when he began playing a piano which was remarkably unscathed in the basement of one of Saddam Hussein's destroyed palaces. Are You Ready To Love Me? is another of his 11 outstanding compositions on the album.
The Cleveland-raised songwriter, whose early life was blighted by homeless shelters, met his future wife at a festival where Tanya asked if he'd written the songs; he had and numbers were exchanged. But battle-scared and scarred Michael was too shy to respond. 'I threw her number away because I have a lot of insecurities that I still have,' says Michael on the duo's website. 'Who would want to be with a guy who went to war?' Tanya was a force not to be ignored.
The War And Treaty exude positivity on stage, with volcanic voices that can be remarkably tender. Listen to the bluegrass-stained Here Is Where The Loving Is At, featuring an exquisite cameo from Emmylou Harris, and the nostalgic Little New Bern, about Tanya's grandparents' farm.
Washington-born Tanya, née Blount, says: 'We allow people to see we are not perfect. We get on stage. We sweat, We're overweight. We yell. We get ugly, we scream! My hair comes loose. We're vulnerable – naked – in front of people, and it's a chain reaction. It allows them to be vulnerable too.' Amen to that.
Brown Baby: Rhiannon Giddens with Francesco Turrisi
The remarkable Rhiannon Giddens provides Song Of The Week at herecomesthesong.com with Brown Baby, a wonderful interpretation of the Oscar Brown Jr lullaby, from her new album, There Is No Other, featuring the Dublin-based Italian jazz multi-instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi.
Giddens' latest ambitious project, after the dazzling Songs Of Our Native Daughters in collaboration with Allison Russell, Leyla McCalla and Amythyst Kiah, blends American and European roots music with African and Arabic influences. Turrisi's adornments, from frame drum (the daf) to piano and accordion, add drama to Giddens' glorious alto, claw-hammer banjo and fiddle.
In his 1960 song, covered by Mahalia Jackson, Nina Simone and Lena Horne, civil rights activist Brown expresses hope for the future of a son born into a world of prejudice and inequality:
As you grow up I want you to drink from the plenty cup
I want you to stand up tall and proud
And I want you to speak up clear and loud
As years go by I want you to go with your head up high
I want you to live by the justice code
And I want you to walk down freedom's road
The Giddens rendition is delivered plaintively by this formidable classically-trained folk crusader, who appears indebted as much to Simone as Odetta. Her banjo's Middle Eastern tones give the child in the song a universality Brown himself may have intended…
It makes me glad you gonna have things that I never had
When out of men's heart all hate is hurled
Sweetie, you gonna live in a better world
The album (there is no Other is its correct stylistic title, highlighting the perils of 'Othering') is sparsely produced by Joe Henry, with only cellist Kate Ellis deftly embellishing the work of the main protagonists on four tracks. Recorded in just five days in Dublin, it features one of the finest versions I have heard of the traditional gospel song Wayfaring Stranger, covered by Burl Ives, Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, LeAnn Rimes and Ed Sheeran.
The North Carolina-born musician explains in the liner notes: 'Francesco and I went into the studio without any concrete idea of what was going to happen – all we knew is that we were going to make something cool. Something that was a combination of all the sounds we have each been building and working on over the course of our lives – something that revealed how similar those sounds are, and how well they work together, despite the seemingly insurmountable distance separating America and the Mediterranean.'
Giddens' own I'm On My Way, Ten Thousand Voices and the spiritual He Will See You Through emphasise her gifts of power and subtlety so evident on 2017's Freedom Highway. She and Turrisi will be worth catching during their UK and European tour later this year. A spellbinding fusion of genres awaits.
Ride Me Back Home: Willie Nelson
Willie Nelson's touching homage to horses, of which he has more than 60 on his ranch outside Austin, Texas, rescued from the slaughterhouse, is Song Of The Week at Here Comes The Song. Ride Me Back Home is the title track of his latest album due out on June 21. Happy 86th birthday, Willie.
Remarkably, this will be Nelson's 69th studio album and is the third in a trilogy dealing with mortality following 2017's God's Problem Child and last year's Last Man Standing. There are three collaborative tracks with producer Buddy Cannon and covers include the late great Guy Clark's Immigrant Eyes and My Favorite Picture of You and Billy Joel's Just The Way You Are.
Ride Me Back Home was co-written by fellow Texan Sonny Throckmorton, a Nashville Songwriters' Hall of Fame member, after a visit to Nelson's ranch called Luck, a kingdom for his horses. The lyric really moved his friend...
Now they don't need you
There's no one to feed you
There's fences where you used to roam
I wish I could gather up all of your brothers
And you would just ride me home
This ode to equine welfare marks a return to a topic dear to Nelson's heart – in 2012, for an album entitled Heroes, he re-recorded Wayne Carson's A Horse Called Music with a little help from Merle Haggard, his fellow Highwayman. The video featured boyhood idols and singing cowboys Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. Nelson's cherished relic of an acoustic guitar is called Trigger.
Nelson takes on the threat of advancing years with Seven Year Itch and Come On Time and cannot resist the temptation to be political with a version of Mac Davis’s 1980 song Hard To Be Humble, aimed at a particular president. His sons Lukas and Micah join in the poking of fun.
Cannon persuaded his old buddy to revisit Stay Away From Lonely Places, a song from his 1972 album The Words Don't Fit The Picture. 'I’m the biggest Willie Nelson fan there is, and I thought I knew every song that he ever did,' the producer told Rolling Stone Country. 'But I had never heard that song. It sounded totally new to me. He’s a born troubadour. It’s the greatness. That early genius that was him and his songs is still there.'
Nick Of Time: Bonnie Raitt
The formidable Bonnie Raitt recently celebrated the 30th anniversary of the release of the album which transformed her career, the multi-Grammy winning Nick Of Time. Song Of The Week at herecomesthesong.com is the enchanting title track from her 10th studio LP.
It was a watershed moment: Raitt was nearly 40, had been dropped by her label and knew her lifestyle had to change. A song about the ageing process, and other gems showcasing her soulful voice, provided the turning point. A chance meeting in 1988 in a Los Angeles studio revitalised the fortunes of producer Don Was too. Capitol took them on, and they were commercially successful at last.
Raitt loved the Philadelphia international sound of Nick Of Time which suited her sublime delivery. Was told Billboard: 'If you can just imagine her sitting three feet away from you and you hear that beautiful voice coming through your headphones... I don't know that it ever gets any more satisfying than that experience.'
Devotees of Raitt may prefer her raunchy, funky side, with that accomplished slide guitar to the fore in songs such as John Hiatt's Thing Called Love, Jerry Lynn Williams' Real Man and her own The Road's My Middle Name, but it is her haunting slow-burners which sear the memory. Nick Of Time sits proudly among an impressive back catalogue of balladry. I Don't Want Anything To Change, I Feel The Same, All Alone With Something To Say and the magnificent I Can't Make You Love Me… the list is long.
The songwriter Bonnie Hayes, who contributed Love Letter and the reggae-tinged Have A Heart to the album, said of her namesake: 'She puts the ache into everything. All of those songs were given a gift when she chose to cover them.' Raitt is one of rock music's finest interpreters but Nick Of Time is one of her own and the words as poignant as in the songs she covers and covets. 'I pick songs where I have to really mean every lyric.'
Life gets mighty precious
When there's less of it to waste
Those eyes are pretty hard to take
When they're staring back at you
The uncompromising Californian, now 69, knew her blues-driven roots music would eventually be rewarded. 'Having a new label that cared, having the radio climate change, getting sober and finding Don Was all came together in a kind of kismet of timing. It was great.'
Was explained for Billboard's retrospective on the making of the album: 'This was an underdog record, and everyone was determined for her music to be heard. They went beyond the call of duty, and I think you can hear that in the playing. Nick Of Time was one of the most radical rock 'n' roll songs. No one had the courage to talk about turning 40. Everyone had to pretend they were still 18.'
On the title track Raitt was writing about a friend who craved a child but whose whose biological clock was ticking...
A friend of mine she cries at night
And she calls me on the phone
Sees babies everywhere she goes
And she wants one of her own
Like Raitt's own story, her friend enjoyed a happy ending, or rather a new beginning. She convinced her partner and was blessed with a child. In the nick of time.
Bright Side Of The Road: Van Morrison
In a tribute to a treasured friend and revered sportswriter, Song Of The Week at herecomesthesong.com is Van Morrison's Bright Side Of The Road. It was a favourite track by a favourite artist for my former colleague Andrew Longmore, who has died at the aged of 65. The lyric beautifully captures his optimistic spirit.
Let's enjoy it while we can
Won't you help me share my load
From the dark end of the street
To the bright side of the road
I was honoured to to be Andrew's sports editor at the Independent On Sunday for six years from 1996. We called it our golden age. He was too modest to acknowledge it but he was the burnished one, our glittering prize.
As a writer of flair and authority, elegance and economy, on such a wide range of sports, he had few equals. He covered horseracing, tennis, football (Portsmouth’s yo-yo fortunes notwithstanding), rowing, cycling, athletics, sailing, countless Olympic and winter disciplines and was a champion of women’s sport. His cruelly early death at 65 will have touched many.
As Van sang on his 1979 album Into The Music...
Into this life we're born
Baby sometimes, sometimes we don't know why
And time seems to go by so fast
In the twinkling of an eye
Andrew, our chief sports writer (pictured below), was named Olympic reporter of the year by the Sports Journalists' Association after the Sydney 2000 Games, an honour for the Sindy. To beat the big beasts, whom he would later join, was a joy for us all. It was typical that he should praise the office for its ‘Gold man river’ headline rather than dwell on his own outstanding tribute to the five gold medallist Steve Redgrave.
When he eventually moved to the Sunday Times, where he continued to write brilliantly for a bigger audience on a bewildering array of topics, our hearts were heavy. The announcement came not in the office, by phone or email, but over a cup of tea at my house. Class. He valued loyalty, friendship, the emotional pull peculiar to small teams. We knew how much his family meant to him because of the exemplary way he balanced work and personal demands, and we were made to feel like extended family.
It is desperately sad that the retirement Andrew embarked on last year should have ended so soon. I had persuaded him to write a blog for my own retirement project, Here Comes The Song, which he did – about two upbeat songs of the American band Fountains Of Wayne. He dedicated his piece to a fallen friend of his who had compiled a CD of 20 driving songs 'for the long-suffering journo on the road’.
His wife Jane told me how much he was enjoying life, with time to dote on his grandchildren, and how had been building a Spotify playlist of his own favourite songs. A new top-five entry was heralded: Van's Bright Side Of The Road. Now it is our turn to do the dedicating. RIP, Andrew.
Fire: Sara Bareilles
We try to avoid the mainstream at herecomesthesong.com but the American singer-songwriter, pianist and actress Sara Bareilles has risen above it, revealing a more nuanced side. Our Song Of The Week is the power ballad Fire from her new album Amidst The Chaos, as performed on NBC's Saturday Night Live show.
Bareilles, 39, from Eureka, California, a Broadway star who wrote the score and performed in the musical Waitress, jumped at the chance to have new material produced by the roots master T Bone Burnett. A Eureka moment for her – and us. Here's the slightly less incendiary album version of Fire.
There's a welcome political awareness to her latest work. Trump is not mentioned but he is the elephant in the room. Bareilles pays homage to the Obamas and to feminism. About our selected song, she explained to Entertainment Weekly: 'It's about learning to cope, when politically, socially and culturally, it can feel like the world is on fire. I always think a lot about the next generation. It's a scary time to have to grow up. So it's trying to reinforce the idea that we can exist and can cope amidst the chaos.'
The album title is borrowed from a line in the song Orpheus. Burnett's approach was especially welcome by the artist, who is writing a TV series whose central character is a songwriter. 'After I was done cartwheeling through my living room, I immediately replied yes,' she said. 'I describe my life as falling into two categories: before and after Waitress. It's fundamentally changed almost everything about my life.'
For Amidst The Chaos, she collaborated with a number of other writers, including Lori McKenna and Justin Tranter. Her backing band for the Saturday Night Live appearance included two thirds of the roots trio I'm With Her, Aoife O'Donovan and Sarah Jarosz, who said: 'It was a dream come true to perform with Sara. She is the epitome of class, beauty, and just plain stunning musicianship.'
Bareilles' breakthrough pop hit was Love Song in 2007 and she won an Emmy for her Mary Magdalene in Jesus Chris Superstar Live In Concert. But it's her soulful vocal on her sixth studio album, her first since the acclaimed The Blessed Unrest in 2013, which has made us sit up and take notice. Here's the beautifully titled, gospel-kissed Saint Honesty. Finesse after the fire.
Like A Songbird That Has Fallen: Luther Dickinson & The Sisters Of The Strawberry Moon
Bluesman Luther Dickinson, known for his work with brother Cody for the North Mississippi Allstars, has a new collaboration, Sisters Of The Strawberry Moon, an all-woman cast of Americana, folk and roots artists, whose Like A Songbird That Has Fallen is Song Of The Week at herecomesthesong.com.
Dickinson's understated guitar yields the spotlight to the gospel-soaked vocal of Amy Helm, daughter of the late great Levon. The song, described as a tender ode to redemption, was written by T Bone Burnett & Bob Neuwirth for the soundtrack of the American civil war movie Cold Mountain in 2003. Here's the film version by the now disbanded Tennessee bluegrass band Realtime Travelers.
The track appears on new album Solstice, the singer-songwriting line-up completed by Amy LaVere, Shardé Thomas, Allison Russell (Birds Of Chicago) and gospel trio Como Mamas. The band's name refers to the lunar period when the strawberry is harvested. The organic sound, with added honey, was recorded over just four days, producer Dickinson achieving a loose, live feel.
A strawberry jam session, you might say. 'It was sort of like throwing a party. Once you manage to get everybody together, you can just step back and let it all happen,' says Dickinson. 'The idea was to introduce a bunch of friends and get them to collaborate. I wanted to let the chemistry flow, to create an environment where everyone’s flavours naturally blended and each artist could just be themselves. I think you can feel that freedom in the music.'
Helm is at the heart of that freedom movement, delivering an uplifting refrain: 'As a songbird that has fallen, Only to regain the sky, From this frozen shadow valley, Make my spirit fly.' Her own ballad Sing To Me is just as soulful, Dickinson's slide calling and answering Russell's clarinet.
Each of the acts are given two or three songs. For the opener Russell reprises Superlover, a gem from Birds Of Chicago's bravura album Love In Wartime. Thomas, with her old-time fife and drum, contributes a catchy slice of R&B in Fly With Me, upright bassist LaVere a brooding The Night Is Still Young, and Como Mamas a stirring a-cappella climax with Search Me.
'We believe music is a celebration of life, and folk music an expression of community and family,' Dickinson adds. Amid the glorious shared experience of projects such as Songs Of Our Native Daughters (Rhiannon Giddens, Allison Russell, Amethyst Kiah and Leyla McCalla) and A Window To Other Ways by Marry Waterson and Emily Barker, both discussed in this blog, Solstice adds weight to the feeling that this is the year of the collaborators.
The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore: The Walker Brothers
In memory of Noel Scott Engel, aka Scott Walker, who has died at the age of 76, Song Of The Week at herecomesthesong.com is the classic 1966 Walker Brothers version of The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore, surely one of the greatest No1 UK hit singles. 'Loneliness is the cloak you wear...' We were hooked from the first line.
The Ohio-born Walker's seductive baritone breathed fresh life into a song recorded the previous year by Frankie Valli. It was written by Bob Crewe and the Four Seasons keyboardist Bob Gaudio (remember Walk Like A Man, Can't Take My Eyes Off You and Silence Is Golden?). The unrelated Brothers' rendition of The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore, with its Phil Spector-style wall of sound orchestration, manages to be both desolate and uplifting and still has the power to stop you in your tracks.
Scott's smouldering pin-up looks and California cool (he and his mother had relocated to Los Angeles in 1959) were an uncomfortable distraction for us 15 to 16-year-olds struggling to impress potential girlfriends. Jealousy was the cloak we wore. A neighbour of mine, who did a half-decent Elvis impersonation, complete with quiff and lip curl, seamlessly switched from air guitar to air mic and lip synch after letting his locks grow a touch.
Even in those early days, there were signs of an avant-garde leaning. Exquisite Walker originals, alongside reimaginings of his idol Jacques Brel's creations, came on his solo albums after the Brothers' break-up with Montague Terrace (In Blue), Big Louise, It's Raining Today and Angels Of Ashes particularly memorable.
His fascination for the baroque, the burlesque, the theatrical and the cinematic helped make the highly literate American one of our most innovative adopted talents. A string of songs by the Belgian Brel, whom Walker described as 'the most significant songwriter in the world', were given prominence, notably Mathilde, Amsterdam and Jackie. Walker's admirers were forming an audible queue: David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Marc Almond, Thom Yorke, Brian Eno, Damon Albarn, Jarvis Cocker.
It was not until Scott 4 in 1969 that Walker dispensed with Brel, the crooning standards and covers to release a collection of entirely self-penned material. The increasingly reclusive singer, who absorbed European musical influences that might shame any Brexiteer, remained more popular in Britain, where he took up citizenship in 1970, than in his own country.
Pop stardom, which he was never comfortable with, gave way to a darker, riskier and uncompromising artistry, especially during the second stage of his solo career after the Brothers staged a three-album revival in the mid-70s. Nite Flights, which Bowie covered, provided clues of what was to follow. 'I’m an outsider for sure. That suits me fine.'
The American's songs were always challenging, often disturbing, sometimes in his latter work too experimental, abstract and dissonant. He was not about to make it easy on himself. 'They wanted me to be Perry Como and I wouldn't do it,' he said. A radical to the end.
Broken Angels: Over The Rhine
Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist, aka Over The Rhine, are celebrating their 30th year as a songwriting duo (22 of them as husband and wife) and have just released a new album, Love & Revelation, which deals with the delicate subject of loss. Song Of The Week at herecomesthesong.com is Broken Angels.
The Ohio couple named the band after their old Cincinnati neighbourhood, which was founded 150 years ago by largely German immigrants. On Broken Angels Bergquist's soul-dipped vocal recalls a conversation with a soulmate united in grief. There's poetry here:
I want to take a break from heartache
Drive away from all the tears I've cried
I'm a wasteland down inside
In the crawlspace under heaven
In the landscape of a wounded heart
I don't know where to start
'My friend suffered a tremendous loss when he lost his partner to suicide,' explains Bergquist. 'I shared with him that someone very close to me in my family had attempted to take her own life multiple times as she struggled with a then undiagnosed disorder. The song was born out of an honest moment: two survivors sharing their experiences, processing together. The chorus came to me during my drive home. I had to pull over and record it on my phone.'
It was the first song finished for their 15th studio album. Detweiler says: 'We try to write music that in little ways helps to heal the wounds that life has dealt us or the wounds we've dealt ourselves.' Through the pain runs a strong thread of hope and compassion. 'We write songs that allow Karin's voice to bloom, and we find musicians [take a bow, Band Of Sweethearts] who know how to make what we do speak and breathe, twitch and moan.'
Their intelligent, sensitive approach serves them well on the opener Los Lunas ('I can fix anything except for me,' Karin sings plaintively), the stripped-down, bluesy title track (outstanding drums here from Jay Bellerose) and Leavin' Days (not a Brexit lament). Guitar polymath Greg Leisz and Jennifer Condos on hollow-body bass adorn an impressive collection of songs.
Over The Rhine, who toured Europe and the UK last year, live in a converted barn at Nowhere Farm, where they hold an annual festival and plan songwriting workshops. 'Our big idea is: wouldn't it be great to make music in front of a live audience and then sleep in our own beds every now and then?' If Karin and Linford ever stop coming to us, maybe we should go to them.
Hate Won't Win: Bennett Wilson Poole
After the horrific attacks in New Zealand, a song written by Tony Poole for British band Bennett Wilson Poole's debut album last year could not be more appropriate. It should be a mantra: Hate Won't Win, our Song Of The Week at Here Comes The Song. Sadly, it will always be relevant.
The song was composed in response to the murder of MP Jo Cox in 2016, Poole telling Here Comes The Song how he was inspired by Neil Young's 1970 classic Ohio for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Ohio was rush-released as a single after the indiscriminate firing by the National Guard into a crowd of unarmed Kent State University students demonstrating against the escalation of America’s war in Vietnam and Cambodia.
'I was in the garden on a sunny day, and I was overwhelmed by grief,' said Poole, describing his emotions when news broke of the Cox tragedy. 'I’d never heard of her, but reading about her life and work made me think this is what a politician should be.'
Like Young, Poole wrote his song very quickly, an instant reaction to an abhorrent act, and played the raw version into his phone. Bennett Wilson Poole had not officially formed when Tony and his two friends recorded the track and released it on YouTube. It went viral. The bracketed subtitle, Song For Jo Cox, was later removed because of the song's universality. The message is aimed at all mongers of intolerance.
Hate Won't Win is the most powerful song on the award-winning band's brilliant eponymous album which contains such gems as a former Song Of The Week on this website, Ask Me Anything, The Other Side Of The Sky and Lifeboat (Take A Picture Of Yourself). My colleague Phil Shaw talks here about their Byrds-infused retro sound and the Ohio connection.
Long live the Rickenbacker 12-string and those jingle-jangle chimes. Bring on the Bennett Wilson Poole sequel.
Twister: Marry Waterson & Emily Barker
A joyous collaboration between folk aristocrat Marry Waterson and Australian Americana favourite Emily Barker provides Song of the Week at herecomesthesong.com with Twister from their debut album, A Window To Other Ways, to be released at the end of March. A fitting way to celebrate International Women's Day.
Marry, daughter of Lal Waterson and cousin of Eliza Carthy, forged a friendship with Emily at a songwriting retreat run by Kathryn Williams, Waterson's One Little Indian label mate, and the outcome is an alluring blend of folk, country, blues and soul. 'It came very easily,' said Waterson. 'I think we were meant to meet.'
Waterson's clever, quirky lyric writing is beautifully showcased on Twister, a song celebrating people’s differences and 'unusual ingreditents'. 'Let's stay curious,' their contrasting but complementary voices chorus. 'He's a twister, he's an eight-ball, she's a twister, she's a curve-ball. And one life doesn't fit us all.'
The video underlines Waterson's prowess as an illustrator and visual artist too, as does another advance track, the indie pop delight Perfect Needs. The album was produced by Adem Ilan, who arranged the memorable Sgt Pepper-style psychedelic segment, while the multi-instrumentalist Lukas Drinkwater, from Barker's live band, weaves his magic throughout.
Barker's past musical alliances have been highly enjoyable. Here she is with the delightful Applewood Road in 2015 and The Red Clay Halo in 2013. She is probably best known as the writer and performer of the award-winning soundtrack to the British version of the Scandi crime drama Wallander, starring Kenneth Branagh.
Her soulful solo album, Sweet Kind Of Blue, was nominated for album of the year in the 2018 Americana Music Association UK awards; she ended up being crowned artist of the year. Meanwhile, here’s Waterson during her acclaimed project with guitarist David A Jaycock on Death Had Quicker Wings Than Love in 2017 and with her brother Oliver Knight on Hidden in 2012.
Waters and Barker, who are promoting their album during a mini-tour of the UK, are a perfect match because of rather than in spite of the differences referenced in Twister. Long may they remain 'fearless in mutual witness'.
I Believe In You: Talk Talk
Talk Talk's ethereal album Spirit Of Eden in 1988 included the moving I Believe In You, our Song Of The Week at Here Comes The Song in memory of Mark Hollis, an exceptionally gifted singer, songwriter and musician, who has died at the age of 64. The song is a despairing plea to his elder brother Ed whose life would be claimed by heroin addiction.
Hear it in my spirit
I've seen heroin for myself
On the street so young laying wasted
Enough ain't it enough
I just can't bring myself to see it starting
There were clear signs on Talk Talk's previous album, The Colour Of Spring, that the synth-pop shackles were being shed along with annoying comparisons with Duran Duran. The group we remember for It's My Life were experimenting with sound, mood – and silence itself. The new mantra was less is more for a band reborn.
North Londoner Hollis and his co-writer, producer Tim Friese-Greene, created memorable songs such as the beautiful April 5th (sounding like the theme to a Scandi noir crime drama), Life's What You Make It and Give It Up from that album. There is a further example of Hollis echoing Steve Winwood in the higher register on the jazz-blues classic Ascension Day on Laughing Stock, as avant garde as its predecessor Spirit Of Eden.
Perfectionist seems too understated a word to describe Hollis's infamously painstaking approach in the studio which must have tested the patience of fellow musicians, engineers and label executives. But when that zeal and lack of compromise produce gems such as I Believe In You, we can only be grateful. As George Chesterton reflected in GQ: 'Other than its gilded compositional beauty, what Spirit Of Eden taught me was to be open-minded about art – to accept difference and experiment. Accepting this invitation has been a source of pleasure and fascination ever since.'
Hollis's voice is the finest instrument, silent for 20 years after his last recording, a solo album that was almost too abstract. There were rumours about a comeback and fans' appeals for it to happen but Hollis was content with family life; he had said all he wanted to say, played all he wanted to play. The reluctant post-rock pioneer had had his Watershed moment.
That anguished vocal was eloquently described by Graeme Thomson in The Guardian: 'At its lower register it is the murmur of a confessional. It's a voice with an ingrained ache, which speaks of restrained passion and inner struggle, ordinary earthly torment and longed-for transcendence. It carries, always, the promise of compassion.' Hear, hear. RIP.
People Change: Mipso
It has been a great year or two for harmony-loving roots acts – Darlingside, Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlings, I'm With Her, Birds Of
Chicago, Our Native Daughters, Secret Sisters, Over The Rhine, The Brother Brothers, Mandolin Orange, Anna & Elizabeth, Lula Wiles. Somehow the North Carolina combo Mipso escaped us. No longer. Song Of The Week at Here Comes The Song is People Change.
It is one of the standout tracks on their bittersweet country-folk album Edges Run, featuring the singing and songwriting skills of fiddler Libby Rodenbough, Joseph Terrell, Jacob Sharp and Wood Robinson. Sharp had the makings of a catchy, contemplative song when he played it to Rodenbough and Terrell who provided the embellishments. Sharp sings dreamily, and you can feel the ache...
I used to love you like the world would end
I used to love you like a child
The thing about people is they change
When they walk away
Rodenbough told PopMatters: 'We were sitting at Jacob's lake house and Jacob had the beginnings of this song about growing apart from someone you once felt so deeply close to. I remember wondering, 'Is this too dramatic? Like the world would end?', and we were all like, 'No, that really is what it feels like!' I think you can hear how honest that song is for Jacob, and it was something Joseph and I could relate to immediately. It was cool to sit there trying to inhabit that headspace together, all thinking of our own lives, but all tied to this same feeling.'
Mipso have developed impressively from their university days as a less than incredible string band. There are still blades of bluegrass but their musical field is far broader. Their name apparently is a playful twist on a Japanese word – they have toured that country. They are currently supporting I'm With Her in the US, a gorgeous bill with each band showcasing high-calibre collaborative songwriting.
Rodenbough had a hand in eight of the album's dozen tracks. The disturbing Oceans, which invites a dark Gillian Welch-style delivery, appears to concern climate change but the writer admits she is 'still not quite sure what it's about'. On the slow-burning title track her alluring vocal and fiddle (in devil's tuning) work their magic as do the drumming of Shane Leonard and the pedal steel of fellow guest Eric Heywood. People do change; Mipso should know.
Walk Through Fire: Yola
Yola Carter calls herself just Yola these days but her eagerly anticipated debut album Walk Through Fire will surely make her name bigger. The title track, which blends gospel, soul, country and pop, is Song Of The Week at herecomesthesong.com. Here's a voice to lift the spirits.
The 33-year-old British singer, who wowed Nashville at the 2016 AmericanaFest, has collaborated with Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, as well as an array of other esteemed writer-musicians in Dan Penn, Bobby Wood, Pat McLaughlin and Joe Allen, for a record intended to help the healing process after the traumas of a house blaze and an abusive relationship. Yola really has walked through fire.
That powerful, soulful voice is impressively versatile, allowing her to bend the genres on an album produced by Auerbach in Nashville. The title track is transported by the bluegrass luminaries Ronnie McCoy, Stuart Duncan and Molly Tuttle – and, deliciously, by harmonica giant Charlie McCoy.
Her six-track self-produced EP Orphan Offering, which included the outstanding fiddle-powered Fly Away, introduced us to a major vocal and songwriting talent. The volume is about to be increased with Walk Through Fire. Hear Yola's stirring soul-pop ballad Faraway Look, a throwback to the Sixties which one can imagine Dusty Springfield singing. There's fire and finesse in this force-of-nature performer.
She told Americana UK following her breakthrough year: 'I went from not existing as an artist, taking three years out, looking like a loser to my peers, some vocalising their lack of faith that I could work solo – just me and a hack guitar – to winning my category at the Americana Music Association awards and getting rave reviews and press in NPR, The Guardian and American Songwriter.' Appearances on Jools Holland's Later show were to follow.
Yola, who was born Yolanda Quartey, knew she wanted to sing, and had the voice to realise her dream, at an early age. 'My mum had some Jackson Five records, and I thought it was normal to start singing at five years old. I was in a rush to get ready very young, but to my mother it wasn’t a proper job (certainly not a job that a poor family could have the luxury of pursuing), so I was banned from anything that could lead to a life of professional singing.
'Everything I learned and developed, everything that I wrote and planned I had to hide until I was 21-22, out of school and earning regularly for the first time doing sessions and fronting other people's live acts. It was as if I was coming out of the musical closet.'
But it was thanks to mum that the young wannabe songwriter fell in love with Dolly Parton via a compilation album – those homespun stories of struggle and heartache resonated (here's a live clip of Yola covering Jolene with Della Mae and The McCrary Sisters). 'Country and singing with twang felt really natural to me.' Mum also had Otis Redding records, so the influences of soul and gospel were absorbed. Then it was the soundtrack to the Coen Brothers' film O Brother Where Art Thou, the music of The Byrds, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and The Band, and the work of Mavis Staples, Gillian Welch and Emmylou Harris which nourished the Americana roots.
The Bristol-based 'Queen of country soul' talked to The Bluegrass Situation about the difficulties of growing up as a black kid in a predominantly white seaside town in the south-west. 'It was a very conservative and pretty racist environment, so music was a real escape and a way to express myself. Orphan Country is about growing up in that place, being from a broken home, being from a place that doesn’t accept you one bit.'
Like an island growing older
I'm an orphan country to my home
Oh ask me why I stay, I say I know no other place
But my kin I love and the others thirst for blood
Yola seems to be winning her battle for acceptance now. As we can hear, the fire is within.
Chasing You: JJ Cale
The late great JJ Cale, guitar hero to the guitar heroes, provides Song Of The Week at Here Comes The Song with Chasing You, an advanced track from the posthumous album Stay Around, which will be released in April. This is an unexpected and unheard blast from the past, a real treat for fans of laid-back, chugging blues-rock and what became known as the Tulsa Sound.
This treasury of unreleased material and out-takes by Cale – a guru to Eric Clapton, Derek Trucks, Mark Knopfler, John Mayer, Tom Petty et Albert Lee – has been collated by his widow and former bandmate Christine Lakeland Cale and manager-friend Mike Kappus. Cale died in 2013 at the age of 74, his 14th and final studio album having been Roll On in 2009 on which he played most of the instruments and was producer. Naturally.
Christine says of Stay Around, which was recorded in their front room during band rehearsals for the 2009 tour: 'I wanted to use as much that came from John's ears and fingers and his choices as I could, so I stuck to his mixes. You can make things so sterile that you take the human feel out. But John left a lot of that human feel in. He left so much room for interpretation.' Precious memories.
I remember seeing Cale and his combo at Hammersmith Odeon in 1976. Always suspicious of fame and its trappings and traps, he was a reluctant frontman yet so relaxed. When the curtain opened, the band were sitting and playing in a semi-circle. We could hear JJ's guitar but couldn't see him. He was standing in the wings; never was one for the limelight. An unassuming below-the-radar giant of rock, the sensitive kind.
My Here Comes The Song colleague Ian Tasker was there too, a decade before we first met; we might even have been sitting next to each other. He recalls: 'They started off with a long instrumental. There was a mic stand front centre stage and we all thought JJ was going to waltz on and take the spotlight. Then some anonymous bloke at the back started singing. Brilliant!' The ticket above is Ian's.
Cale's vocal was unhurried and tender, his subtle, never ostentatious guitar style instantly recognisable – and so influential. Clapton, who covered After Midnight and Cocaine among others, said of their collaboration on The Road to Escondido: 'This is the realisation of what may have been my last ambition, to work with the man whose music has inspired me for as long as I can remember.'
After Cale's death, Clapton presided over a gathering of indebted musicians in 2014 to pay homage with a tribute album, The Breeze (An Appreciation Of JJ Cale). 'I regard him as one of the roots of the tree of American folklore,' Clapton said. 'Making this record was a way to say thank you for all the inspiration over the years. I suppose at some point I started to feel mildly outraged that he hadn't got the recognition that, at least I thought, he should have had.'
The only song of the 15 tracks not written by the Oklahoma City-born, Tulsa-raised John Weldon Cale is a Christine Lakeland composition called My Baby Blues, the first she and JJ cut with a four-piece band in Bradley's Barn studio in Nashville in 1977, the year they met. There'll be a lot of love in this record.
The Chasing You video, with its poignant lyric ('Walking down through the past/ We thought it would always last/ Things have changed somehow/ It’s all behind us now/ Don’t know why I do/ I’m still chasing you'), is taken from To Tulsa And Back – On Tour With JJ Cale, a documentary DVD released in 2005. We echo the sentiment of one of the other keenly anticipated tracks: Wish You Were Here.
Leave Me Now: Lula Wiles
Lula Wiles' music sounds as old as an Appalachian valley but the lyrics are modern, socially and politically aware and often biting. The dark, moving Leave Me Now by the Boston-based roots trio is Song Of The Week at herecomesthesong.com. It comes from their splendid second album, What Will We Do.
Ellie Buckland, Isa Burke and Mali Obomsawin, singer-songwriters who blend guitar, fiddle, stand-up bass and divine voices, met at fiddle camp near home in rural Maine and all studied at Berklee College of Music. There is no Lula in the band – their name is a twist on a Carter Family song. The influence of Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings can be detected but there is an impressive diversity here.
There are no happy-go-lucky country folk ditties. Listen to the ironic Good Old American Values, Obomsowin's swipe at America's treatment of its native history and cowboy nostalgia, and the angry Shaking As It Turns, about the country's deepening divisions after the mowing down of a woman in Charlottesville in 2017 as a white nationalist rally exploded into racial violence.
A citizen of the Abenaki Nation, Obomsowin uses the liner notes to spell out a few home truths: 'I hope that it becomes equally unacceptable to write and sing anti-Native lyrics as it now is to write and sing anti-Black lyrics. Unfortunately, Indian hating is a good old American tradition. In fact, American culture has depended on it... The best I can offer is to reclaim and repurpose the rhetorical and aesthetic space of country music carved out for me by colonialism, in pursuit of beauty and truth.'
Good old American cartoons
Indians and cowboys and saloons
It's all history by now
But we hold the pen anyhow
Congratulations to Ben Glover and Courtney Marie Andrews for winning UK album of the year (Shorebound) and international album of the year (May Your Kindness Remain) respectively at the AmericanaFest awards in Hackney; the retro band Bennett Wilson Poole were voted UK artist of year. All are recent Song Of The Week contributors to this website. Lula Wiles' What Will We Do must be an early contender for next year's accolades.
Golden Wings: Mike Farris
If you've not heard Mike Farris and his attractive brand of soulful blues-rock, why not try Golden Wings, our Song Of The Week at herecomesthesong.com. From last year's Silver And Stone album, it is a cautionary tale for his son about avoiding dad's wrong turns.
'It’s one of those songs that just flowed out after I did an exercise where you write a letter to your younger self,' Farris, a native of Winchester, Tennessee, told Rolling Stone Country. 'It has a dual message – something to say to a young person who is looking for answers, but also a reminder to myself to be free and open to the possibilities of life.'
The song is one of seven originals among tributes to his heroes such as Sam Cooke and Bill Withers. Farris dedicated the album to his wife Julie on their 23rd anniversary for helping to nurse him through recovery from addiction after the wild days with his Screamin' Cheetah Wheelies band. The album title refers to her wedding ring. The reward for all that tough love was a Grammy, the first roots-gospel award, for 2014's Shine For All The People, which included a moving version of Mary Gauthier's Mercy Now.
On Silver And Stone, there is Stax of soul and thankfully not too much sermonising. Farris's soul-drenched tenor is at its most emotional on Withers' Hope She'll Be Happier, and for his own Movin' Me he borrows a little from Al Green as the sizzling guitar of an old friend Joe Bonamassa turns a ballad into a barn-burner.
File next to Robert Cray and Anderson East. The influential Buddy Miller says Farris 'has enough heart, soul and power to light up a city. He mixes up the elements and turns them into something new, beautiful, and uniquely his own'. London awaits: you can catch him at AmericanaFest UK in Hackney this week. He now has a Staple in his set, When Mavis Sings.
After finding sobriety and spirituality, the American singer-guitarist has turned his life full circle. All aboard the Farris wheel.
Quasheba, Quasheba: Our Native Daughters
Rhiannon Giddens' latest project – a roots ensemble called Our Native Daughters with Allison Russell, Leyla McCalla and Amythyst Kiah – has previewed another moving track from their forthcoming debut album. Quasheba, Quasheba is our Song Of The Week at herecomesthesong.com. This is compelling, important music.
The banjo-led song is sung with a soulful quiver by its writer, Birds Of Chicago powerhouse Allison Russell, with Giddens harmonising, and is an homage to Russell's West African ancestry. She had traced a distant family member, the aforementioned Quasheba, who survived a transatlantic crossing in the hold of a slave ship and was sold to a sugar cane plantation owner in Grenada. 'I wept to learn her name,' says Russell.
Raped and beaten
Every baby taken
Starved and sold and sold again
But ain’t you a woman
Of love deserving
Ain’t it something you survived
The album, entitled Songs Of Our Native Daughters, is a collection of 13 unheard or untold ancestral tales about slavery, abuse and discrimination, inspired by a visit to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington.
The influential Giddens, who tackled the subject on her Freedom Highway album with the achingly bleak At The Purchaser's Option, explains: 'Gathering a group of fellow black female artists who had and have a lot to say made it both highly collaborative and deeply personal to me. It felt like there were things we had been waiting to say our whole lives in our art, and to be able to say them in the presence of our sisters-in-song was sweet indeed. I see this album as a part of a larger movement to reclaim the black female history of this country.'
We are doubly fortunate to be able to enjoy the vocal depth of Giddens and Russell in the same supergroup. Russell's Birds Of Chicago alliance with singer-guitarist JT Nero is worth hearing – try the superlative SuperLover from their Love In Wartime album. The cellist Leyla McCalla, a New York activist with Haitian roots, was a colleague of Giddens in Carolina Chocolate Drops and impressed with her jazz-infused Capitalist Blues offering. Amythyst Kiah is a self-professed southern gothic songwriter from Johnson City, Tennessee, and another powerful voice – as illustrated by Trouble So Hard.
Quasheba, Quasheba was described by Rolling Stone Country as a 'simmering folk-noir that slowly builds', enhanced by the mournful cello and electric guitar of McCalla and multi-instrumentalist and co-producer Dirk Powell. Our first hearing of the album was Giddens' raw, emotional chant Mama's Crying' Long, written from a child's perspective as he watches his enslaved mother being hanged and too painful for Giddens to sing in more than one take. Indeed, it is almost too painful to listen to. But listen we must.
Hard Case: Tedeschi-Trucks Band
Any new material from Tedeschi Trucks Band is always welcome. Hard Case, an uptempo southern blues-soul-rock delight, is Song Of The Week at herecomesthesong.com, an advance track from their forthcoming fourth studio album, Signs. So hard to refuse...
The song, propelled by Derek Trucks' scintillating slide guitar and Susan Tedeschi's wonderfully soulful voice, was written by the husband-and-wife team with Mike Mattison and recorded at their Swamp Raga studio in Jacksonville, Florida, against a sad backdrop following the passing of Allman Brothers co-founder Gregg Allman and Derek's influential uncle Butch Trucks.
'The music they made was of a special time and place,' Trucks, who was with the Allman Brothers from 1999 to 2014, told No Depression. 'I'm never going to recapture that stuff but I've certainly been able to take the lessons I learned from them… This is the first record we’ve made where, when I listen to it, it puts me in a specific place. It puts me in a zone and hits some raw nerves.'
Album tracks such as Strengthen What Remains, Still Your Mind and All The World articulate the band's sense of loss but generally the mood is one of optimism, as with the uplifting Hard Case. It is doubtful the new songs will match the magnificence of their classic Midnight In Harlem but here's hoping.
We look forward to what could be the gig of the year at the London Palladium in April during their European tour. A 12-piece roots ensemble to drool over, the versatile Tedeschi Trucks Band are perhaps the finest since Little Feat.
You Didn't Call My Name: Molly Tuttle
Get ready for the rise and rise of Molly Tuttle. The Californian with bluegrass in her veins won international folk song of 2018 with You Didn't Call My Name, a delightful slice of Americana from her seven-song debut solo EP, Rise, recorded the year before. It's our Song Of The Week at herecomesthesong.com with its haunting hook and refrain enhanced by John Mailander's lovely fiddle. Hello Molly...
The 26-year-old Nashville-based Tuttle, who appears on an impressive Transatlantic Sessions line-up touring the UK in February alongside the great American songwriter Gretchen Peters and Ireland's finest Cara Dillon, became the first woman to be named bluegrass guitarist of the year, an accolade she received twice. She is known for her flat-picking prowess and a claw-hammer style rooted in the banjo, as illustrated by the what-might-have-been love song Save This Heart.
Your letters get shorter
The days get longer
I call across the border
It's static on the line
Save this heart of mine
Tuttle made her move to Nashville after studying music at Berklee College in Boston, where she deepened her knowledge of roots, jazz and contemporary improvisation. 'They really pushed me to learn theory and get out of my comfort zone.' Her desire to be regarded as an original talent is well on the way to being satisfied.
She was taught to play by her dad Jack and was soon part of the famed Tuttle family band. 'I love coming up with interesting guitar parts that don't really fit, that don't sound like any specific genre or any other players,' she told Folk And Honey. Her songs sound simple at first but contain real depth and her graceful vocal has an Appalachian lilt. She is particularly proud of the nostalgic Lightning In A Jar. Cue thunderous applause.