My Kind of Country

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Daily Archives: May 12, 2014

Classic Rewind: Tom T. Hall – ‘A Week In A Country Jail’

Album Review Tom T. Hall – ‘In Search Of A Song’

in search of a songHall’s fifth album was released in 1971. It is filled with his trademark story songs, and feels like a cross between a collection of short stories set to music, filled with distinctive and realistic characters from rural America, and actual oral histories from the South. Many of the stories were based on real ones Hall picked up while travelling around the country looking for material.

‘The Year That Clayton Delaney Died’ is one of Hall’s best remembered songs, a closely observed and affectionate portrait of a childhood hero who inspired him to be a musician. I had always assumed it was based on a much older man, but apparently the real life inspiration was little more than a teenager who died of an unexpected severe illness rather than old age, which makes the nuances of the story feel rather different. A trumpet adds to the effect. It was the album’s only single, and was Tom’s second #1.

Less well known but perhaps an even better song ‘Who’s Gonna Feed Them Hogs’ is the story of a hardworking pig farmer incapacitated by illness, whose fretting in his hospital bed about his animals and the future of his farm prompts a miraculous recovery.

Ramona’s revenge is another tale from childhood: Ramona was deaf, dumb and illiterate, but manages to find a way to identify the creepy neighbour who has made her pregnant.

‘Trip To Hyden’ is about a storyhunting trip to a bleak little town ravaged by a mine disaster. Hall paints an extraordinarily vivid picture of the place:

Every hundred yards a sign proclaimed that Christ was comin’ soon
I thought, well man, he’d sure be disappointed if he did

It was sunny down in Hyden but somehow the town was cold

‘Kentucky, February 27, 1971’ relates a similar trip into the country, this time to meet an old man at a remote farm. He laments the depopulation of the countryside as the young are drawn to the bright lights of the city instead of the hard work of farm life; and thinks he has no story for Hall.

‘It Sure Can Get Cold In Des Moines’ is a gently paced ballad about a bar room encounter with a silently weeping woman while he is on the road. He can only imagine her story. ‘LA Blues’ is about being a fish out of water, but more cheerful sounding than the title suggests.

‘A Million Miles To The City’ gives voice to the thoughts and imaginings of the country people of Hall’s childhood about the big city, good and bad, but where “someday we all wanna go”.

‘Second Handed Flowers’ is a tragic tale about a girl dying from injuries in a car crash later recorded by George Jones. The narrator gives her flowers he had bought for another woman, symbolic of a past relationship when he turned to her when the other woman wasn’t available. The rather sad twist is that she knows she was an afterthought, even now.

The quirky ‘Tulsa Telephone Book’ has the narrator having perused this work 13 times looking for a girl whose surname he doesn’t know (and he probably doesn’t have the right first name, either ), who he met when:

I was in Tulsa and didn’t have anything going
She lived in Tulsa and didn’t have anything on

Gospel style piano leads into the tongue-in-cheek depiction of the ‘Little Lady Preacher’ apparently seduced by her louche guitarist (or perhaps it’s the other way around).

This classic album is still in print, both on its own and as a 2for1 with The Rhymer and Other Five And Dimers. It is an essential part of any serious country music collection, epitomising the Storyteller.

Grade: A+