When the great Vern Gosdin died earlier this year, I wasn’t expecting any posthumous material to emerge. Obviously, I was mistaken, as this CD on obscure indie label Sims Records has been released. The material is of somewhat murky origin; there is no mention of it on the official Vern Gosdin website, the liner notes are minimal, and there is no date given for the sessions. Label owner Russell Sims and Frank Green are credited as producers. The lineup of musicians is almost identical to that on Vern’s 1997 release 24 Karat Heartache, the only differences being the drummer and the fact that this album has no backing vocalists, with Ron Oates, producer of that album, credited here for arrangements. Combined with the fact that Vern is in great vocal form here, and the overall similarity of this set, I am inclined to suspect these recordings date from approximately 1996-1997, although they do not appear to be from the same sessions as a different recording studio is named. How they came into the hands of Sims Records is unclear.
A possible clinching factor in determining the date is that one song, ‘Where Do We Take It From Here’, appears on both albums. It is an excellent song about a once-happy relationship coming to a close, which is certainly worth hearing again, and it is given a superb vocal performance. According to the credits on 24 Karat Heartache, it was co-written by Vern with Dennis Knutson and A. L. “Doodle” Owens, although here Vern alone is credited. The liner notes credit a further five songs on the album to Vern’s solo authorship, but the above evidence (and the fact that most of Vern’s songwriting involved collaboration) leads me to supect this is likely to be inaccurate.
One of the best of the songs credited to him is the sad ‘After Losing You’, which is classic Vern Gosdin, as he emotes:
Sometimes I want to drink until I drown
Sometimes I wish that I was not around
There ain’t no way to win if I can’t lose
These memories of things we used to do
Sometimes I hold your picture til it hurts
And wonder if my life is what love’s worth
Sometimes I wonder what I’m gonna do
With me, after losing you
This song is so good I’m surprised it has never previously surfaced.
‘Two Broken Hearts’ is also pretty good, with tasteful semi-Caribbean tinges, as the protagonist takes solace in the arms of another loser in love:
“I guess it takes a fool to know a fool …
‘Cause two broken hearts are better than one
It’s better than falling apart all alone
Maybe between the two of us
We’ll find a way to carry on
‘Cause two broken hearts are better than one”
This track has a couple of slightly disconcerting shifts in volume, which sound rather as if two vocal tracks have been spliced together electronically. This is also detectable on one of four songs written by one Jollie Hollie, ‘Not Back To Where I’ve Been’, a fine song in which the protagonist refuses to take back an erring ex, set to a beautiful tune:
Thanks but no thanks
I’ll not hurt this way again
I said yes to you each time before
But this time I’m saying no
To whatever it is you have to give
You can just pack up and go
Just save that line you’ve used each time
‘Cause it won’t work again
I don’t know where I’m going
But it’s not back to where I’ve been
In ‘The Ride’ (also written by Hollie), which opens the album, the protagonist is quite happy to settle for something less than true love. It has an arresting opening (“Loving me is something you don’t”) and good verses, but a repetitive chorus, making it the least good of the Hollie compositions here, despite a bright vocal from Vern. Much better is the classic-sounding ‘Lips Speak Up’ with its rather quirky admonition to the inarticulate protagonist’s own lips for not voicing his heartache. The best of the Hollie songs here is the closing track, ‘To Feel What I Once Felt’, a sad ballad which is perfect for Vern, as the protagnist just can’t help himself:
“The thrill is to touch you, but your feeling can sure kill a man
To feel what I once felt would be well worth dying again
Like a wino to his bottle I return to your hurt more and more …
To need you like I need you is the greatest of all my sins
To feel what I once felt would be well worth dying again”
I know Hollie wrote a couple of album tracks in the 1970s for Gene Watson (the beautiful ‘I’d Settle For Just Crossing Her Mind’ on Paper Rosie) and Conway Twitty (‘You Love The Best Out Of Me’ on This Time), but I know nothing else about her (I assume her to be female based on the name, plus something about her writing).
Of the lesser material, ‘Thank Your Mama’ is a warmly delivered love song from a trucker to his wife, wrapped up in a message of thanks to her mother for bringing her up so well. ‘The Biggest Little Arms’ was one of the previously unreleased tracks on last year’s box set 40 Years Of The Voice, and is a pleasant mid-tempo love song. The least successful track is ‘Yard Sale’, chronicling a couple’s sale of all their possessions (possibly thanks to bankruptcy, although the lyric isn’t entirely clear), which scans a little awkwardly and sounds too cheerful for the downbeat subject matter.
Whatever the origins of this album, it’s certainly worthwhile for Vern Gosdin fans. He was in great voice, and the material is all good, if not quite up to the standards of ‘Chiseled In Stone’, ‘Set ‘Em Up Joe’ or ‘Alone’.