I remember standing in a pub in Belfast as a very good cover band did a very credible version of a current hit. I found myself splurging out to my near neighbour, ‘Great song.’ He smiled knowingly, like he’d had this conversation a million times, ‘ Well, good record.’
My friend was Ralph Murphy, British Nashville exile, songwriter and ASCAP point man. I nodded….Very true. There is a big difference. The difference perhaps is best exemplified when you leave a song bare. No harmony, no other instrument, just the piano or guitar and a voice. It’s melody words and a few chord changes and sometimes, if you’re lucky a killer riff…but often it’s just the melody and the lyric. It used to be a salutary exercise when a song was handed over to a remix ‘person.’ They’d take off everything – all your favourite twists and turns and voicings – and sit the bare vocal over something completely different. Hell they’d sometimes change the chords ….the were often not over fussy about the key! (viz You Got The Love, Candi Staton). Perhaps the best explainer of all of this is Randy Newman’s Songbook albums where he re records many of his songs with only his voice and piano accompaniment, in much the same way as he performs his repertoire live. It’s stark, honest and powerful and often very moving to have the emotional dissonance of the string lines removed to make the poignancy of the lyric slightly harsher and, often, crushingly brilliant.
So why the long recitative, Ricky, I hear you ask? Well, it all brings me to this man.
John Fullbright’s new record is called Songs, and although he self-effacingly suggests that he’s not good with titles he also admits that the key to the record was the many songs he has left unadorned. It’s similar to that moment when you put the Christmas tree up and it looks and smells beautiful; there’s always a moment with me when I think, ‘it might be nice to leave it.’ You never do though. In this case John is made of stronger stuff and the aching simplicity of some of the fine songs on the epoymously titled album are repeated this Friday in session. Look out for some brilliant singing and playing too and listen in as John tells us all that has happened since receiving a Grammy nomination for his debut record.
Also new and wonderful things from Old Crow Medicine Show and their former singer, Willy Watson,The Howlin Brothers and something spectacularly from the great new Jack White album.
Mr Murdoch has found a great vinyl rediscovery which picks up a theme from last week’s show. There will be so much more….did I mention that Aoife O’Donovan will make a rather lovely guest appearance? Thought not.
It will all start at five past eight this Friday evening on BBC Radio Scotland. Join me if you can.