My Kind of Country

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Daily Archives: May 19, 2014

Classic Rewind: Waylon Jennings – ‘Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?’

Album Review: Tom T. Hall – ‘The Storyteller’

we all got together - the storytellerTom T Hall’s 1972 album contains a selection of his trademark story songs, painting portraits of a variety of individuals from a cross-section of society.

The album’s lead single, ‘More About John Henry’, was a sequel to the old folk song giving details of the tangled love life of the mythical steel driver. An entertaining story song, it was only modestly successful, peaking at #26.

However, it was succeeded by the classic song from this album, ‘(Old Dogs, Children And) Watermelon Wine’, which topped the charts. In this conversational, more or less spoken song, based on a real life encounter with a hotel janitor at a political convention, an old African American man gives him some advice about the good things in life. It is one of Hall’s best-loved numbers, and is a fine example of his observational writing about real people, and the way it provides snapshots of America. ‘The Story Of Your Life Is In Your Face’, set in Hong Kong, is another albeit rather less distinguished tale of meeting with an old man with life advice, and has a pleasant upbeat feel.

‘The Rolling Mills Of Middletown’ is a great if rather downbeat story song about an old friend, a steelworker who marries the wrong woman and ends up committing suicide when he finds out she is cheating on him.

‘Windy City Anne’ paints a picture of a woman encountered while passing through Chicago. The heavily strung arrangement is a little dated now, and the story is not that interesting.

‘Willy the Wandering Gypsy And Me’ is a Billy Joe Shaver song with a clipclopping rhythm which was also recorded by Waylon Jennings on his classic Honky Tonk Heroes the following year. It is the story of a pair of ramblers, and is a good song which fits nicely with the general mood of the album, although this isn’t my favourite version of it.

Moving away from the pen portraits, ‘When Nobody Wants Your Body Anymore’ is a rueful downbeat country ballad addressed to a lover who has left. The narrator promises to be there when she has no other options – with a wry tagline, “unless somebody wants my body before” she comes back. The jazzy ‘St Louis Named A Shoe After Me’ also deals with a man left behind and wearing out the floor, and is quite entertaining. (The city of St Louis was at the time the centre of shoemaking in the US.)

‘A Piece Of the Road’ is about being a travelling musician, and is a little dull, with Hall’s limited vocals exposed in a way the more conversational story songs don’t. ‘Grandma Whistled’ is a sweet-natured tribute to the titular Grandma and her musical influence on Hall, with some gospel piano and backing vocals. The set closes with the straight gospel of ‘One More Song For Jesus’, which comments wryly on his musical career and the hypocrites who criticize him:

We’ve traveled this world over in our day and in our time
We’ve heard some songs that made no sense and some that did not rhyme
We may never sing another song
There ain’t no way to know
But let’s have one more song for Jesus ‘fore we go

We may not live the letter of the law and live that true
Judged and criticized for almost everything we do
But they cannot stop our singing though they’re holier than we
Let’s have one more song for Jesus if you please

They say they’re gonna burn us in a not too distant day
I don’t think we should buy that ‘cause it just ain’t Jesus’ way
They say he’s mean and vicious and there’s nothing that He won’t do
They must know a different Jesus than we do

The overall standard of the songs here is high, but perhaps it doesn’t quite live up to his best work. It is most easily found nowadays as part of a 2for1 CD with We All Got Together And…

Grade: B+