SOMETHING OLD, NEW, BORROWED AND BLUE
Welcome to the latest installment of the Old, New, Borrowed and Blue set list!
The “old” track, Cory Branan’s “Tall Green Grass,” is not that old, at least by my standards, having been released in 2006. But my son seems to think anything approaching ten years old is ancient, so I’m borrowing his definition for this post. I love the sound of this song. You don’t hear many tunes featuring a lone electric guitar. There's some washboard-like percussion instrument keeping the beat and a simple bass line is added to the chorus, but the essence of the song is conveyed through the plucking of that lonesome electric guitar. It gives the tune a veneer of roughness, beautifully complimenting the kaleidoscopic imagery of lines like “With your lemon yellow ribbons and your bleach blonde hair/Blendin’ in the sun ‘til you’re barely there,” and tempering the sweetness of the song’s teaching: “A man that says ‘Dreams don’t last’/Never slept in the tall green grass.”
The new song is definitely new – it was released just a few weeks ago. It's “Singin’ to Strangers” by the Wood Brothers from their new record, Paradise. You know from the first wailing note of harmonica that this song is gonna rock ya. In that sense, it's a bit of a departure for the Wood Brothers who I've always associated with a softer sound. But this track is a full-blooded rock song.
The borrowed tune comes from a new record of covers Shovels & Rope is releasing on November 20. There's a lot to choose from on it, including excellent versions of Neil Young’s “Unknown Legend” (with Shakey Graves), Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day,” Emmylou Harris’ “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight,” and, just because I apparently didn’t love these guys enough, Guns ‘N Roses’ “Patience.” But for the present task, I chose their version of Elvis Costello’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” which they recorded with Lucius. The song has a re-kindled resonance in light of the tragic events last weekend in Paris. It's a striking, dirge-like version that culminates in Lucius’ soaring backup vocals.
To be honest, I've never been clear on the role of the “blue” tune in these sets. Is it supposed to be a Buddy Guy-style blues song with a standard I-IV-V chord progression? Will any old lovesick song suffice? Or just a song with the word “blue” in it? Well, whatever the rules, this time around, I’m slotting in John Fullbright’s live version of “Moving” off his excellent 2013 record, From the Ground Up. One of the lyrics references a guy in an alley singing the blues which is enough for me. Plus, I hear a hint of the Allman Brothers and Leon Russell, particularly in the final throes of the outro, with Fullbright pounding the piano and working the harmonica underneath the final slide guitar salvo. Whether it's truly a “blue” tune, I leave to the Rules Committee. I just know it's a great tune.