From blue-eyed soul to English folk, the unlikely dream team’s second instalment of covers is a welcome dose of musical reassurance
It seems lifetimes ago that Plant and Krauss released their six-Grammy-winning album of duets, Raising Sand (2007). That year, the first iPhone came out and Led Zeppelin reunited for two hours. This long-awaited second instalment of enthralling covers is a dose of musical reassurance that, despite the turmoil in which we find ourselves, some things remain constant. Roots music and rhythm and blues have always played a long game in matters of the human condition.
What worked a treat then continues to work now: Plant dialled down to a sultry croon or, on Bobby Moore and the Rhythm Aces’ Searching for My Love, to a yearning kind of blue-eyed soul, Krauss’s country tones alternately limpid, frisky or timeworn, T Bone Burnett producing deftly. A superlative band creates nuanced tension or percolates away discreetly as required.
What’s new is an uptick in British folk, with versions of Bert Jansch’s It Don’t Bother Me (rolling, resonant) and Anne Briggs’s Go Your Way (fleshed out, electric). Krauss brought in Lucinda Williams’s Can’t Let Go and the whole collection of burnished, lesser-known gems kicks off with a contemporary tune, Calexico’s Quattro (World Drifts In).
Last night, President-elect Joe Biden told Georgia voters they had the power to “chart the course not just for the four years but for the next generation.”
Today’s Georgia Senate runoff election is really that important. The Trump Crime Familyand “Moscow” Mitch McConnell can be eliminated in one fell swoop.
Here’s my list of Top 10 Georgia Songs to help us through a long night of news reports from polling stations around The Peach State.
#10. “Midnight Train to Georgia” (Gladys Knight & the Pips)
Such a great vocal performance by Gladys with equally excellent footwork and “woo-woo’s” by the indispensable Pips.
#9 “Love Shack” (The B-52s)
The 1980s music scene in Athens, Georgia produced at least two great new wave bands, REM and the B-52s. Just down the Atlanta highway you can find that place made for “huggin’ and a-kissin’, dancin’ and a-lovin'”
#8. “Watermelon Time In Georgia” (Harlan Howard)
The great Lefty Frizzell had the original hit with this one, and Levon Helm did a great cover a decade-or-so later. The songwriter Harlan Howard wrote dozens of country hits, but also the soul standard “Busted” for Ray Charles, and the wonderful gospel ballad “No Charge” for Shirley Caesar. Howard is said to be the originator of the oft-quoted phrase defining a great country song: “Three chords and the truth.” The truth about “watermelon time” is that it is a sexy metaphor for what goes on in the B-52’s “Love Shack”
#7 “Sweet Georgia Brown”
Anita O’Day memorably performs this song in the awesome 1958 documentary of the Newport Jazz Festival, “Jazz on a Summer’s Day.” Lookup that performance by Ms. O’Day – fabulous! Another great jazz version is by Django Reinhardt and his Quintette du Hot Club de France. But the most famous version though is the one which is played before the start of every Harlem Globetrotters’ basketball game, with the unmistakable whistling and clacking bones performed by Freeman Davis, aka “Brother Bones” or “Whistling Sam.” The only problem with any instrumental version is you don’t get to hear the wonderful lyrics, such as “Fellas that she can’t get | Must be fellas that she ain’t met.”
#6 Georgia Rae (John Hiatt)
Alt-country performer John Hiatt wrote this about his baby daughter, whose name no doubt was influenced by Ray Charles and Hoagy Carmichael. There’s not many songs about dads loving their baby girls. This is one of them.
#5 “Ramblin Man”
Southern rock” classic with a great vocal by Dickie Betts and trademark Allman Brothers’ guitar harmonies.
4. Oh, Atlanta (Mick Ralphs)
This is the “other” Oh, Atlanta, but nearly just as good as Little Feat’s. Oddly enough, the song was written by Mick Ralphs who wasn’t a southern boy, but a limey (one of the original members of Mott the Hoople). Alison Krauss does a such a soulful vocal on this version.
#3 “Oh, Atlanta” (Bill Payne)
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve replayed just Bill Payne’s barrelhouse blues piano intro to this song. “Funky” forever defined here.
#2 “Rainy Night In Georgia” (written by Tony Jo White.)
Brook Benton just might be the most underrated voices in the history of Soul Music. Truly one of the greats who stands with Lou Rawls and Sam Cooke. This beautiful song was written by Tony Jo White.
TIED for #1: “Moon River” (Johnny Mercer)
Moon River is a real river in Savannah, Georgia, where Tin Pan Alley songwriter Johnny Mercer grew up. There are so many fine versions of this, however the one I love most is with Audrey Hepburn singing at her fire escape in the film Breakfast at Tiffanys. How brilliant a songwriter was Johnny Mercer? Here ya go: “We’re after the same rainbow’s end Waitin’ ’round the bend My huckleberry friend Moon River, and me.”
TIED for #1: “Georgia On My Mind” (Hoagy Carmichael)
Willie Nelson did a beautiful job on this Hoagy Carmichael song from 1930, but the very best version belongs to none other than Ray Charles. In 1979, the State of Georgia designated Ray’s version as the official state song. In 1998 I named my dog after Mr. Carmichael. “Still in peaceful dreams I see the road leads back to you”