Posts Tagged ‘Mickey Newbury

13
Mar
20

Mickey Newbury “The Sailor”

I probably mentioned this before—I heard a Mickey Newbury song on the radio, never had heard of him, so kind of got obsessed with him, then bought half a dozen records—none of which stood up to that song (or the memory of it). Still, he’s an interesting guy, a successful Nashville songwriter and recording artist, without being a big star. I suppose fans of his consider him a big star, but you know, not one of that handful everyone knows—and if you think about it, what’s this obsession we have (in this cultural time and place) with being known even by the people who don’t really care about your art? I guess it’s about money, then, right? This is a nice country record, low key, solid songs, straightforward, Nashville studio pros, I guess, the usual themes. Actually, I’m not listening all that close to the lyrics. “A Weed is a Weed”—yes it is. The cover cracks me up—kind of a half-assed nautical mishmash. It made me think of the one room in my parents’ house that was decked out in a kind nautical, “Polynesian” (influenced, no doubt, by a visit to Disney Polynesian Village), and Tiki bar (influenced by visits to the Kon-Tiki in Cleveland and the Kahiki in Columbus). The closest music they played to country was nothing; I had a Johnny Cash 45, “A Boy Named Sue”—but that was more of novelty record. I don’t remember when I started to really like country music—I believe it was with Merle Haggard. At a certain point I just became open to anything. I can listen to this record, but it doesn’t do much for me. It’s just not weird enough, on any level, to really comfort me in any way. And that subtle harmonica doesn’t help, it’s just so easy on the ears (in a bad way). It just occurred to me that the cover could be the background art for the menu of cheesy seafood restaurant—that made me laugh.

22
Nov
19

Gene & Debbe “Hear & Now”

I spotted this record used, a beat up but playable copy, and it was the first I heard of Gene & Debbe. It’s a great cover, with the words in a slightly psychedelic font, each a different color: ghost green, hot pink, acid orange, and boring blue. Mostly, though, it’s this big b&w photo of Gene & Debbe—Gene staring at the camera like you’ve got exactly four minutes to get this photo, and Debbe just in front of him in profile (she’s quite beautiful) with her hair up in a beehive that won’t quite behave. You know there’s an empty can of Aqua Net very nearby. Liner notes on back (as well as two songs, the saddest ones) are by my man, Mickey Newbury, short, but concrete dense. Not one for the light touch. Though he does slip a little—perhaps unnerved by Debbe’s luminance—and says, of her: “Like the cream in a morning’s first cup of coffee.” I, for one, forgive him. Gene Thomas and Debbe Nevills were a Nashville pop/folk/country duo who had a hit song (“Playboy,” on this record), a handful of other singles, and one album, this one, from 1968.

Odd LPs with great covers are often bummers musically, but I’m liking this one a lot. I’m guessing the hot playing by some uncredited Nashville pros doesn’t hurt. The eleven songs are all catchy, and six are by Gene Thomas. The cover song of greatest note is “Let It Be Me”—which happens to be one of my favorite songs of all time—recorded by everyone and their mother. Gene sounds more than a bit like Sonny Bono. Debbe doesn’t sound like Cher, that would be weird, but her voice is similarly striking—her voice is great. It makes this record, really. It’s kind of like the morning’s first cup of black coffee. You know, my life has been so much better since I got used to drinking coffee black. It wasn’t easy (kind of like quitting smoking), but now I prefer it. Truthfully, this record, as pleasant and listenable as it is, really comes to life every time Debbe sings. Gene’s a tad whole milk, or even 2%. I guess I’ve kind of developed a crush on Debbe, as I listen to this again. “Go With Me” sounds really familiar, I wonder if someone else did it? Debbe takes these kind of simple words (“take my hand”) and just twists them, so they just pierce your heart—and I don’t even think she knows. I guess they were a couple, for awhile, then broke up. I suppose it wasn’t easy, being either a duo or couple, with people like me trying to steal Debbe away from him—but who can blame us?

25
May
19

Mickey Newbury “Heaven Help the Child”

This is a particularly intriguing album cover—it’s a rustic, matte surface, suggesting something real, with a larger than life, full face photo of Mickey Newbury on back, which, while artfully partially obscured in shadows, also exposes pores, divots, blemishes, and misplaced hairs—and remember, this is far before the days of hi-def, when many careers were ended voluntarily, while others just had to say, what the hell, here’s my zits. It immediately says that Mickey is going to open his heart for us. The front cover is trickier—it’s a 7 ½ x 5 ½ inch glossy photo of Mickey sitting on an old chair next to an old lamp in a room that could be a study, or could be a bedroom. This is essentially a cropped photograph, though, because as we remove the inner sleeve, we discover that this is actually a 12 x 12 inch photo that has been framed by the smaller, die-cut opening in the external cover. Now we see the larger room —which still could be a study, a bedroom, a living room, or a rec-room—or is it now too big for a bedroom? Now you can see the expanse of the old carpet, a stained glass window behind him, a couple of large photo albums on the floor, and that he’s wearing cowboy boots. When you remove the inner sleeve, which has lyrics on the other side, there is a smaller, more atmospheric, blurred version of the cover photograph behind—printed on the inside of album cover! You don’t see that too often. What does it all mean?

Mickey Newbury was a respected Nashville songwriter and recording artist who put out a couple dozen records. Even though his music is somber and his lyrics are dark, he’s good-looking in a way that probably appeals to in-laws and pets, as well as people his own age, and you feel like you could leave your kids with him, or would be comfortable in a car he’s driving. This record, from 1973, is not his first, and a company like Elektra doesn’t spring for the die-cut nonsense if they don’t think you’ll sell a few. There are only eight songs—two are three and half minutes, but the rest are long, quiet, pretty, and melancholy. I like them all, and pretty much everything I’ve heard by him, but I don’t know how passionate I’m going to get about the songs on this record—there is an overall flavor of the mainstream—even if it’s not what I’d imagine as “popular.” The other weird thing is there is a dedication scrawled on the large space at the bottom of the album cover in a red pen that matches the red frame around the die-cut hole, leading me to believe that this is part of the cover—yet when I look up images of this cover on the internet, it’s not there. It seems to say, “To a friend”—though I’m not entirely sure—and then a name—it could be Joe, or José, or Lori, or Josie, or even “you.” If you were giving this record as a present, that is not where you’d write a greeting—it’s so front and center—which leads me to believe this was written by the artist, himself. Mickey Newbury passed away, far too young, in 2002. You can find his records. I wonder what happened to the “friend” to whom he presented this record—which will likely outlive me, and find its way into another haunted record shop.

30
Aug
18

Mickey Newbury “Sweet Memories”

This is a 1985 LP put out by MCA Records of “previously released material”—there’s nothing wrong with that if the songs are good—but the presentation, the album cover, doesn’t feel like an artist’s album, but a record company product, which, again is okay, but I’m more interested in the LP as an art form that’s a direct extension of the artist from a certain time and place. This would be the ideal thing to find on cassette at a truck-stop during a nonstop cross country road-trip in a vintage automobile. This would be your 3am ’til dawn music. The back contains some concise liner notes written by Wesley H. Rose, president of Acuff-Rose Publications, and he calls Mickey Newbury one of the great songwriters of our time. You might not have heard of him, but if you were a Nashville old-timer, you certainly would have. I wonder what’s going to happen to Nashville. I’ve heard, repeatedly, lately, about how the population there is exploding. For whatever reason, it’s the place to move to. Which means, of course, that the people who are getting there now, or soon, are going to have a hard time finding a place to live, finding a job, making ends meet. I suppose many of those moving there are songwriters, trying to break into the songwriting, singing, playing, recording music business. Most won’t make it. Some will stay and work at the new microbrewery, or a call center, and some will go back to the town they came from, and some will try the next place. I wonder where the next place is, or going to be?

Anyway, this is a fine listening record, and maybe a good record to study a well-crafted Nashville style song, but I’m not going to focus on the songs right now because many of them are on other Mickey Newbury records I have and will write about later. This has the feeling of a post-career record (not the case) with a 7 inch single size portrait of him on the cover (with his great smile and hair) surrounded by an expanse of oppressive green background (a shade of green I’d call “basement rec-room”). I first heard Mickey Newbury just a few years ago during a WKCR NY radio country music marathon, and in particular, this one song (can’t remember what now) that struck me as being the kind of song I’d like to write. So then I got kind of obsessed, not recalling ever seeing his records—started looking for them and found them affordable, and before you know it, I have six of his LPs (from 1973 to 1979) plus this one. I’ll get around to writing about those records when they come up on my random review system. Let this be my introduction to Mickey Newbury and promise of more to come. In a quick perusal of his internet biography (which you never want to take as gospel) it sounds like he had great success as a songwriter at a relatively early age, but didn’t record until his late twenties (what some would consider “late”), but then put out a lot of records, until he suffered with health issues and died far too young. You can find quotes of the utmost respect for him by some great musicians and songwriters. I’ll look forward to really listening in depth to some of his records, here, in the near future.




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