Friday, October 06, 2017

If there is anything more beautifully moving than Emmylou Harris and John Prine singing Guy Clark, I don't think I want to know



I'd rather sleep in a box like a bum on the street
Than a fine feather bed without your little ol' cold feet
I'd rather be deaf, dumb, and stone blind
Than to know that your mornings will never be mine

I'd rather die young than to live without you
I'd rather go hungry than eat lonesome stew
It's once in a lifetime and it won't come again
It's here and it's gone on a magnolia wind

I'd rather not walk through the garden again
If I can't catch your scent on a magnolia wind

If it ever comes time that it comes time to go
Sis just pack up your fiddle Sis pack up your bow
If I can't dance with you then I won't dance at all
I'll just sit this one out with my back to the wall

I'd rather not hear pretty music again
If I can't hear your fiddle on a magnolia wind


There is a lot wrong with this world, but there are some compensations, at least, for the seemingly never-ending horror show. Emmylou Harris and John Prine singing this beautiful song by Guy Clark is one of the best.

Clark's original is great, but this version —from a Guy Clark tribute album — raises it to new heights. The song works brilliantly as a duet, with the melodic voice of Harris contrasting with Prine's soft gruff-yet-breaking voice, which is close in its effect to Clark's original vocal.  This contrast draws out the interplay between the sweet romance and melancholy at the song's heart — where the beauty of a genuine love is contrasted with the prospect of its inevitable end.

Country music can get a bad wrap, but it is a serious form and, like all genres of popular music, it can be  done well, badly and everything in between. The likes of Clark (who died last year aged 74), Harris and Prine are, without question, among its finest exponents.

From the same generation (Harris and Prine are both 70), all three were leading figures in the serious and artistic wing of country music, operating in the grey area between general "folk" music and country, committed to the craft of storytelling.

And if any of the three were to start their careers now, they would no doubt be labelled, not as "country", but "alt-country" or the ever-vague "americana". And maybe that doesn't really matter — labels are just words and can never capture any artists contribution, and does more the box them in than anything,.

But still... I cannot help feel sad that so much unspeakable shit gets to take the label of "country" these days, when the stuff that comes from the heart, from the roots, gets shunted off to some other, sidelined genre or subgenre.

BONUS TRACK: Clark's friend and talented country singer and songwriter Rodney Crowell, on the same tribute album, sings Clark's extraordinarily poetic song "Old time Feeling".



And that old time feelin' goes sneakin' down the hall,
Like an old gray cat in winter, keepin' close to the wall.
And that old time feelin' comes stumblin' up the street,
Like an old salesman kickin' the papers from his feet.

And that old time feelin' draws circles around the block,
Like old women with no children, holdin' hands with the clock.
And that old time feelin' fall on it's face in the park,
Like and old wino prayin' he can make it 'till it's dark.

And that old time feelin' comes and goes in the rain,
Like an old man with his checkers, dyin' to find a game.
And that old time feelin' plays for beer in bars,
Like and old blues-time picker who don't recall who you are.

And that old time feelin' limps through the night on a crutch,
Like an old soldier wonderin' if he's paid too much.
And that old time feelin' rocks and spits and cries,
Like and old lover rememberin' the girl with the clear blue eyes.

And that old time feelin' goes sneakin' down the hall,
Like an old gray cat in winter, keepin' close to the wall.
And that old time feelin' comes stumblin' up the street,
Like an old salesman kickin' the papers from his feet.


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