My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Tom T. Hall – ‘Homecoming’

homecomingBy the time Tom T’s second album was ready for release, Jeannie C. Riley’s version of Hall’s composition “Harper Valley PTA” had been a big hit, and “Ballad of Forty Dollars” had become Hall’s first top ten record. Although Homecoming would not be issued until November 1969, Mercury started issuing singles off the album in May 1969, starting with “Strawberry Farms”.

The first single “Strawberry Farms” was a very personal song, ostensibly about an orphan’s home, but more a reflection on Hall’s life as his mother passed away when he was barely a teen, and his dad was disabled soon thereafter. The song barely cracked the top forty, marred by an arrangement reminiscent of “Ode To Billie Joe” with elements of “If You Could Read My Mind” (a future hit for Gordon Lightfoot).

Summer comes early to strawberry farms
Oh the sun always shines but an orphan can’t go
My mother is dead, she doesn’t care where I go
My father left a long long time ago

Basically, the song was far too depressing to have been a big hit.

The next single, “Homecoming”, was unlike anything else on the radio, reflecting Tom T’s attempts to explain to his father exactly how it was that he made his living. Basically the song is heard through Hall’s responses to his father’s questions:

You heard my record on the radio, oh, well it’s just another song
But I’ve got a hit recorded and it’ll be out on the market ‘fore too long
I got this ring in Mexico, no, it didn’t cost me quite a bunch
When you’re in the business that I’m in, the people call it puttin’ up a front

I know I’ve lost a little weight, I guess I am looking kind of pale
If you didn’t know me better, Dad, you’d think that I’d just gotten out of jail
No, we don’t ever call them beer joints, night clubs are the places that I work
You meet a lot of people there, but no, there ain’t much chance of gettin’ hurt

“Homecoming propelled Hall back into the top ten, reaching #5 and staying in the charts for fifteen weeks. While Hall would never consistently be a top ten chart artist, most of his singles through 1979 would at least reach the top twenty.

The third single “A Week In A County Jail” would be the first chart topping single for Tom T Hall. According to this song was based on something that actually happened to him:

“I was arrested for not having my driver’s license with me in Paintsville, Kentucky. And the judge’s grandmother dies so he left town for a week. I was only supposed to be in jail overnight, but I just had to wait ‘til he got back …”

Two days later when I thought I’d been forgotten
The sheriff came in chewin’ on a straw
He said, ‘ where’s the guy who thinks this is Indianapolis ?
I’d like to talk to him about the law

“A Week In A County Jail“ reached #1 on January 31, 1970, staying there for two weeks.

The fourth and final single from the album was “Shoeshine Man”, a jaunty talking blues number that reached #8 and features a smart harmonica driven arrangement that fit Hall’s voice perfectly:

I’m a shoeshine man number one in the land
A shoeshine man make you shine where you stand
Leave me a tip if you can I’m a shoeshine man

Well I can sing, I can dance, I can play the harmonica too
I got a brand new thing on the South Side Montgomery Blues
You better stick around and watch me cause I’m an entertainin’ fool

There were two more big hit records on the album, but one of Hall’s friends, Bobby Bare, released “(Margie’s At) The Lincoln Park Inn” as a single for RCA before Mercury could get around to releasing it as a single (if ever they planned to do so). Tom T Hall rarely recorded his songs if other artists had already recorded the songs; consequently, unless Tom recorded the song before the other artist, there won’t be a Tom T Hall recording against which to compare it. Bare’s version charted in March 1969, eventually reaching #4).

The song is told from the perspective of a father, who describes his everyday life and activities as the backdrop to his tale of temptation as personified by his adulterous relationship with a woman named Margie. It is not clear whether or not Margie is a prostitute or mistress / girl friend, but he knows that she’s waiting at the Lincoln Park Inn, and the temptation is strong to go see her.

Next Sunday it’s my turn to speak to the young people’s class
They expect answers to all of the questions they ask
What would they say if I spoke on a modern day sin
And all of the Margies at all of the Lincoln Park Inns

The bike is all fixed and my little boy is in bed asleep
His little ol’ puppy is curled in a ball at my feet
My wife’s baking cookies to feed to the bridge club again
I’m almost out of cigarettes and Margie’s at the Lincoln Park Inn

Hall’s version was not as dramatic as Bare’s hit single but I suspect that it could have been a hit for Tom as the subject matter was unlike anything else on the radio at the time and tells a compelling story.

“The Carter Boys” is an autobiographical song that Hall wrote about himself and his brothers. The song title refers to the county in which Hall lived. The song has the talking blues-style arrangement that Kennedy had worked out for Hall’s voice

We had an old car that we kept tied together with pieces of baling wire and hope
Well they knew when we got there and they knew when we left
They could tell by the noise and the smoke
Anytime the sheriff had nothing to do he’d get out and chase us around
The old women prayed the old men laughed and the middle aged people all frowned

“Flat–Footin’ It” would have made a good single. An up-tempo song about a dance craze popular while Hall was attending college, the arrangement is bluegrass in everything but its instrumentation.
Not a substantial song but a fun song:

And you’ll be flat footin’ it, flat gettin’ it
You don’t know just how good it is until you hear that guitar pickin’ it, pick it

The other big hit record on the album, “George (and The North Woods)” is lyrically the most interesting song on the album as it is subject to varying interpretations. Old friend Dave Dudley snagged the song for a top ten single in the autumn of 1969. In Dudley’s version, it is strongly hinted that George is the narrator’s dog. In Hall’s version it seems that George is a friend of the narrator. The song is a perfect fit for Dave Dudley’s voice and the Dave Dudley version has a more contemporary sound than does the Tom T Hall recording. I doubt Hall’s version would have been as big as Dudley’s version if released as a single.

George, I guess you knew how much it hurt me
The day that old judge gave her both my kids
But she said she wouldn’t care if I’s to drop dead
With all that insurance I don’t guess she would

Most people think the wilderness is quiet
Would you listen to the wolves out in the woods
Well tomorrow when I’ll leave here I’ll be a changed man
I’m gonna ride those trains when they yell all aboard

You spent a lotta time here in the big woods
I’m really glad you’re goin’ with me George
George, George, George, are you there?
Hey man, you’re not puttin’ me on, are you George?

Other songs include “Nashville Is A Groovy Little Town” which is just another song, in this case about the life of a songwriter.

Remember how I used to sit and drink and play guitar
And I’d get up and sing for all those folks at Jody’s bar
Well I found out it ain’t too bad, the way I pick and sound
Nashville is a groovy little town

“Kentucky In The Morning”, a salute to Tom’s home state:

I will sing of a place that you may have seen in the eastern half of our land so green
Where the sun is warm and the sky is blue and the love of a girl is true
Kentucky in the morning trimmed in green and blue
Kentucky in the morning I was only passing through

The album closes with another talking blues arrangement, featuring a different twist on the old theme of leaving someone behind crying at the station. If Jimmie Rodgers were alive in the 1960s, he might have written a song like this one. I am, of course, a big Jimmie Rodgers fan.

When the train pulls in the station, you’ll be waiting by the track
You’re having trouble sleeping nights, you want me to come back
But that old train will roll on by, you’ll know I never came
While I sleep good and miss a lot of trains

I sleep good and I miss a lot of trains
That one way track to no man’s love, I’ll never ride again
I used to lie awake like you, calling out your name
Now I sleep good and miss a lot of trains

At the time the album came out, I didn’t give the matter a lot of thought, but in retrospect, you can hear Tom T Hall’s bluegrass roots throughout much of this album. I’d give this album an “A” but even better albums would be forthcoming.

Grade: A

One response to “Album Review: Tom T. Hall – ‘Homecoming’

  1. luckyoldsun May 7, 2014 at 8:38 pm

    “Margie’s At The Lincoln Park Inn” would probably not have been a good single for Hall because most of Hall’s first-person songs tended to be about himself–the persona that he presented to the public– and that song would have meant stepping out of character. Bobby Bare’s songs on the other hand–(“Miller’s Cave,” etc,)–were frequently about fictional and even fantastic characters.

    The New York Times once had a Sunday feature about Bobby Bare and Tom T. Hall. Apparently, they and their wives were all pretty close friends for many years. Bare said :
    “When I recorded ‘(Margie’s at) The Lincoln Park Inn,’ my wife said, ‘You’re awfully believable on that song.’ I said: ‘I had nothing to do with it. Tom T. wrote it.’ Miss Dixie told Tom T., ‘That song is awfully believable.’ He said: ‘It has nothing to do with me. I wrote it for Bare.’ We blamed it on each other.”

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