Posts Tagged ‘duets

16
Nov
18

John Prine “In Spite of Ourselves”

This is a record I know well, since I made a cassette tape of it late in the last millennium, from the CD source—one of my favorite albums in recent years (last two decades)—but it’s the first thing I put on up here in the cabin, as I noticed there is a sticker on the record that says, “First Time On Vinyl!”—so apparently it was only available on CD before, and it’s reissued by OHBOY Records on 180 gram vinyl. If you thought your record collection was a bitch to move back in the old days, wait until everything is on 180 gram vinyl—your friends are gonna become scarce on moving day. One thing that bugs me sometimes when an album originates on CD and then is put out on vinyl, it retains the track numbers, like in this case, 1 thru 16, rather than side one, 1 thru 8, side two, 1 thru 8, etc. A small thing, but it’s another reminder about another facet about CDs that sucked.

This is a record of all duets, a great tradition of country and western music, where a man and woman can do something together more intimate than sex and no one gets divorced or shot (at least we hope). It’s also a covers record, with an incredible collection of great songs, some fairly familiar and some pretty obscure (at least to me, before this record). It makes sense that a great songwriter like John Prine would come up with an amazing group of songs to cover—and they are all songs that lend themselves to duets. One song by JP, “In Spite of Ourselves,” is maybe the best one on the record. My next favorite here is “Let’s Invite Them Over,” by Onie Wheeler, which is fairly twisted—you’ve just got to listen to it. John Prine’s distinctive singing voice really works well with these strong women singers, among them: Iris Dement, Connie Smith, Lucinda Williams, Trisha Yearwood, Melba Montgomery, Emmylou Harris, Dolores Keane, Patty Loveless, and Fiona Prine. The most and my favorite are with Iris Dement, not surprisingly, since she is my favorite living singer in this whole fragile world. My only complaint here at the cabin is that there’s not more Iris Dement records—I’ve spent more time searching for them than I have looking for hidden marijuana.

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10
Sep
17

Porter Wagoner and Skeeter Davis “Sing Duets”

I have more records by Skeeter Davis than any other recording artist, but I don’t have even half of the albums she released in a long career. If I had to name a favorite singer (please don’t make me do that) I would not hesitate to say Skeeter Davis. For some reason I can’t explain, she has a special place in my heart. And that is just based on the recorded music of hers I’ve been lucky enough to hear. She is firmly based in country and western, but crossed over to pop, and always sounds to me like a little of both, so maybe that’s part of the appeal. But mostly I just love her voice. It always strikes me as having an underlying sadness to it, but also an outward expression of hope, joy, and happiness. But there also is just a quality of someone singing at home, maybe, just one person to another. Or maybe in church, or while working. Her voice always strikes me as the opposite of slick, professional, over-produced. I guess in some sense, there is the same essence of what is essential to me about punk music in her voice, and that is at the heart of the music I love—that quality of “I’m doing it my way”—even when the smoother road might have been strongly suggested as the easier path to success.

This record, from 1962, is one of her earliest albums, and it’s a duet record with Porter Wagoner, who is, of course, one of the giants of country music. I’ve always been aware of him, but never a big fan, which doesn’t mean I might not be someday, if I’d take the time to get to know his music through and through. It starts out with a song that—if this was the song I was to judge Skeeter Davis on, that’d be my loss—not my kind of song. If there was one word I’d use to describe a style of music (any music) I don’t like, it would be “jaunty”—and so much do I despise jaunty music, it makes me wonder about the sanity and even human quality of fans of the jaunty (as in, are they pod people, or Stepford wives?) After that alarming start, though, they settle into really beautifully sung versions of some classic country songs—sweet, introspective, and melancholy. My favorites here are: “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You,” “Heaven Help Me,” “Sorrow’s Tearing Down the House (That Happiness Built),” and “There’s Always One (Who Loves a Lot)”—but really, they’re all good.

This is on the RCA Victor label (with the dog looking down the Gramophone horn) and has a very old-fashioned, color drawing of the two singers on the cover, in a style that makes me think of a young adult romance series book. The blond woman in a blue dress doesn’t match that much any likeness to any Skeeter Davis photo I’ve seen. A sliver of photograph on back (of part of the recording studio control board) accompanies some extensive liner notes in typewriter font by Bill Porter (legendary Nashville recording engineer) where he goes on about how much he loves these songs, but also thinks highly of the artists. It’s very nice, really, but then he goes on about especially one song, which happens to be the jaunty song on here I don’t like (“Rock-A-Bye Boogie”). Oh, well, I guess it’s all a matter of taste, and that’s what makes the world interesting. As I continue to listen, it strikes me—as well as these two voices compliment each other, Porter Wagoner’s is so straight-up country, that—and especially on the kind of duet where he sings a verse, and then she does—you really hear a contrast in their voices—and the quality of her voice (that’s an ongoing obsession with me, trying to understand why I love it so much) it occurs to me that it sounds a little unhinged—if you know what I mean. You probably don’t, but I mean that in the best way.




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