Michael Hurley


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Well he does sing.  Like it’s amazing singing.  Even using a falsetto.  But there is something about his singing that is more like talking.   And then there are these people and animals, and animals that represent people, he sings about.  And then the stuff that is so ordinary that it’s hard to understand why it’s worth singing about at all, like taking a wiz, and finishing a beer, and picking out bones from a fish.

I’ve heard he really lives like a hobo, traveling to gigs in a clunky jalopy, sleeping in his car or on couches and wherever.  You can hear Leadbelly, Hank Williams, Fats Domino, Son House, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and maybe even Joseph Spence, and who knows what bunch-of-others sending their inspiration into his sound.  For a time he played and wrote songs with Peter Stampfel and Steve Weber, the core members of the crowd of loonies known as the Holy Modal Rounders (which you must not forget is a spawn of the empire crushing Fuggs phenomenon).

And don’t forget his cartoons.  As inscrutable and captivating and perhaps weirder than those of R. Crumb and Bill Griffith and even Art Spiegelman.  How do those wolves walk and live in a human world and why are they the only ones playing music, and why do wolves seem to be the only objects of desire for those zaftig human women prancing naked in the street?

And then these crazy things that happen in his songs, involving werewolves and ghosts, not to mention his celebration of robbing banks and cutting off his lover’s ear.  And what the hell is a protein monster?

Protein monster
Ate a sack o’ poison sugar
Crawlin’ out of the barn
to the weeds to die
Rollin’ his Eyes – Eyes – Eye

It may be enough to say he is one of the greatest folk stylists ever in the history of the United States of America.  He is that, but he communicates about a social niche or way of life or state of mind that few, if any, would ever otherwise experience.  He is In The Life, he is an outsider.  The star of this album is named Hi Fi Snock but we know it is really Michael Hurley, even if we don’t know why.

And then there is just the loneliness, the blues, the strife, the missing you, the longing for peace:

She calls me a bum
Sleeping through the  day
There is nothing I wanted to say
I closed my Eyes – Eyes – Eyes

How could anyone sound at once so drunk and sad and funny and profound?

Michael Hurley. Eyes, Eyes,” Dogfish Music (ASCAP) (1972).  From HiFi Snock Uptown, Racoon/Warner Bros. Records, BS 2625 (1972).  Cover art – Michael Hurley; Cover Design – not credited.

Ry Cooder


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One of my all time number one favorite recording artists. What perfection. These old sounds, corny words, rootsy beats, wistful harmonies, simple chord changes, blues and folk and funk and rock and jazz and Latin and African and the Whole Wide World, all that popular culture and he makes such delight out of it all. He is a musician’s musician. And he revives that funny out of tune tuning of Joseph Spence, and he uses those Cajun and Hawaiian and Mariachi sounds so rarely encountered in the rock world.

Listen to this version of Jim Reeves’ “He’ll Have to Go.” Elvis Presley recorded a cover of this tune, and they say it was the last song he ever recorded. Here Ry is playing with his usual crowd of unbelievable musicians including Jim This-Guy’s-Played-Drums-On-Every-Record-Ever-Made Keltner and the great Tex-Mex accordion player Flaco Jimenez in loose dialogue with Pat Rizzo on sax. Ry Cooder’s music is about the joy of music. He puts happiness out there. He just does.

When I was at WZIR, I interviewed him. He was humorless and arrogant. I guess he thought he was talking to a meat headed rock jock. I said, You use that weird out of tune tuning and he started in the schpiel about Joseph Spence this guitarist from the Bahamas and I said Yeah I know I play him all the time on my show – but he didn’t hear me. He was totally patronizing. Then I said, Bop Till You Drop, what a great album! He said, I despise that album. I hate every note on it.

Ry Cooder, Chicken Skin Music, Reprise Records, MS2254 (1976).  Album Design – Kenny Price; Album Artwork – Kenny Price.

Maryam Mursal


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Courageous refugee from the torments of Somalia.  This album recounts the journey from the baleful world from which she escaped with her five children.  Canorous layers of luminous sound from a large ensemble of rock instruments, traditional percussion, string orchestra, many vocalists supporting the ancient quartertone inflections of her amazing voice.

Maryam Mursal, The Journey, Real Word Records/Caroline Records, CAR 2370-2 (1998).  Graphic Design – Tristan Manco; Art Direction – Michael Coulson; Photography – Marcelo Benfield, Soren Kjaer Jensen.

Bert Jansch


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Anyone who had anything to do with Pentangle is a member of the Divine Host.  This is a traditional tune, “Nottamun Town,” rendered otherworldly with Bert Jansch’s mystical guitar work.  Bert uses a drop D tuning and his intricate finger picking bites out notes from his steel strings like a shower of sparks.

I cannot say exactly what happens in this song.  The liner notes speculate that this song has “a high sexual content.”  Well, I can construe that.  But this is also a riddle song, like “Scarborough Fair” or “I Gave My Love a Cherry,” that sets up a series of impossibilities and contradictions.  I wonder if the medieval minstrel who devised this rhyme was presciently expressing existential ennui centuries before Jean Paul Sartre wrote “Everything has been figured out, except how to live.”

The protagonist begins “[i]n fair Nottamun town,” seeking someone who will show him the “the way to fair Nottamun town.”  He is where he wants to be and doesn’t know it.  His horse stands still and throws him to the dirt.  He caused his own fall, the horse could not have done it.

But the song seems to turn into a ghost story, as he encounters a King and Queen and their company, and a stark naked drummer “with his heels in his bosom.”  “Heel” can be the last or lowermost part of any object; can these be a description of the desolation of the drummer’s heart?  They laugh and yet not one looks gay, they talk and not a word is said.  They prefigure the worldly emptiness of “Sounds of Silence.”

In the end he is left sitting totally alone on “hot cold frozen stone,” with ten thousand people around him, “Ten thousand got drownded that never was born.”  Indeed, a pointless life is little different than one never born.

In any case, Bert Jansch’s vibratoless dry voice is a perfect vehicle for this song’s mystery.

Traditional, arranged by Bert Jansch, “Nottamun Town,” Heathside Music (no date).  From Bert Jansch, The Bert Jansch Sampler, Transatlantic Records Ltd., Transam 10 (1969).  Sleeve design – Rainbow; Photography – Peter Smith.

Ray Lema


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Ray Lema - NangadeefIs this jazz, funk, fusion, rock, afropop, trance, folk?  Western instruments applied to rhythms at once spacious and intricate.  Strange and surprising textures, pizzicato violin, furious guitar, grand piano.  Vocals harmonizing punctuating and surfing above it all – are the lyrics Swahili, Kikongo, Lingala?  I do not need to know.

Ray Lema, Nangadeef, Mango Records, CCD 9829 (1989).  Sleeve Design – Island Art; Photography – Richard Haughton.

How to Love Jazz – Robert Creeley


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Those nights flying with poets.  Buffalo has for many years been a poet’s town.  All the great poets of America habitually pass through and many like inscrutable Charles Olson, melodious John Logan, prissy Carl Dennis, and morose James Wright have lived and taught here.  When I first arrived in Buffalo I was not a drinker, but the poets, the poets would consume vast unbelievable quantities of booze, laughing all night from bar to bar, smashing glasses, speeding down Main Street like death was on the taillight, sitting nodding in the kitchen, neon light over the sink, dope and Coltrane interweaving the talk. I  was uncomfortable, intimidated, afraid to let go, to undress my soul in any way, lonely and these ramblings with poets made me feel lonelier.  Taverns to readings to bars with the great poets of Buffalo.  It was a time like no other.  If a group of lions is called a pride of lions, and a group of larks is called an exultation of larks, then I would call a group of poets a wandering.  A wandering of poets.  These memories I have are so humiliating and hard and I realize they were meant for poems, waiting for poems to tear at the guts.

Sometime that first year in Buffalo, I met Robert Creeley.  Creeley is one of the most prominent of America’s living poets.  Half of the year he is a professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo.  He spends much of the rest of the year near Albuquerque in my home state.  I met him after I had been doing Oil of Dog for quite a while and I was surprised he had heard me.  It was then that we discussed the possibility of his appearing on my show and I said Oh that would be great anything that you want to do it will be your show.

Some poets are fat.  Some are thin.  I don’t think there are many in between.  Creeley is lanky and tall, squinting a missing eye, beaming the other, greying goatee.  Many of his admirers can be seen wearing his characteristic garb: an army-green fisherman-type hat, an army jacket, faded jeans, hiking boots, and a satchel over one shoulder.  He is a one-man mode of cool.  It is no wonder that people so admire him.  Because he is so raging and so kind, his voice is soft and thoughtful, breaking off in midsentence, trailing into a mumble (I am reluctant to say “What?  I didn’t hear you.”), beginning midsentence because he seems to have a million things in his mind at once, thoughts that seem to need several simultaneous sentences.  Historically, he is associated with the beat poets of the fifties and his words are often those of the hipster and his manner that of the space cadet.  But he seems so fascinated with what is going on now, broadly accepting of life, interested in all people, even moms and dads and squeaky college kids, even fruit pickers and stu-bums and floozies.  I am a great admirer of Robert Creeley.  Not because of his poems. His poems are important because he can infuse the page with his marvelous personality.

That night when we pre-recorded the four hour show.  Ah!  A blizzard buried the state and I was having trouble with my girl friend and I listened to Creeley warm that night with his love of jazz.  He spoke of musicians and particular songs and legendary solos with great affection:

Art Blakey – “One of the most extraordinary, certainly the loudest, drummer in the business.”

The song, “Nice Work if You Can Get It” with Stan Getz, sax; Bob Brookmeyer, trombone; Steve Kuhn, piano; Roy Haynes, drums; John Neves, bass – “A kind of funky, late forties, almost like a Beach Boys sound of that time and place.”

John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Steve Davis, Elvin Jones doing “Body and Soul” – “This is where it’s at, friends and neighbors, if you can get these two together, you’ve got it made.”

I did not grow up listening to jazz, I did not know how to experience it.  I had no idea what to listen for in a solo.  But after these few hours with Creeley I began to understand.  If there is any way to keep jazz musicians from needing to play disco and jazzak – to reach those who do not understand jazz – it is to have people like Robert Creeley talk about music, make fond presentations like those heard that night on Oil of Dog.

After listening to a tune by Fats Navarro – “dear old trumpet” says Creeley – featuring Allan Eager on tenor sax:

Robert Creeley:       Yeah, I’d like to find out whatever happened to him.  I was in New York once, this was like twenty years ago.  And very sad, as usual.  And, uh, the two great clubs were The Open Door and The Five Spot.  They used to have, like, classic Sunday evenings, or Sunday afternoons and evenings, and you’d go around and sit around for very little money and hear some extraordinary jazz.  This particular night nothing at all had happened, so I was leaving in ultimate loneliness and walking down the street and I see these – yeah – five people getting into a car.  And I just, ah, on impulse got in line with them and hahaha got into the car.

Gary Storm:       Hahahahaha.

C:       And, ah, I remember sitting down and they said, y’know, “Who the he-Who are you?” and I said haha well, you know, “What are you guys doing?” and they said “Well, ah . . . .”  Then they st-I guess they broke up and started laughing ‘cause it was so weird.  And then they introduced themselves and one of these guys said, ah, y’know, “I’m Allan Eager.”

G:       Oh.

C:       I said, “You’re Allan Eager??”  And then all the other guys say “What’s the interest . . . . . . ?” ah, y’know, “Who’s Allan Eager?” And I said, “Well, he’s one of the great, y’know, tenor players ever, man!”  Haha, but no one in the group knew he was that!  It was sort of, this was, yeah, ‘56.  That, yeah . . . .

G:       Is he still alive?

C:       Hopefully.  He was a very bright and articulate man, he got sort of sadly involved with other things for a time, but, ah . . . .  What’s interesting to remember, the extraordinary, ah, tenor players just at that point, um yeah, black and white, extraordinary.

From Oil of Dog – the story of my life as an all-night progressive disc jockey.

Ernest Bloch


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Ernest Bloch - Concerto GrossiThis is “Concerto Grosso for Strings with Piano Obligato” by Ernest Bloch. The strident unison themes of the prelude, the warm and sad resolution of the dirge, weeping gypsy violins, those shimmering violins, melodies that remind me of falling in love, dancing – they are called “rustic dances” – stately dances as if for a wedding, the fugue, the wonderful inevitable fugue, the declamatory strumping finale.

There is something about the concerto grosso – as a form – that has inspired a great deal of music that I in turn find most inspiring. A daring artist will constrict himself, bind himself to a form – the sonneteer’s 14 line iambic pentameter Italian rhyme – and from this constriction will be distilled intangible feeling, a perfectly articulated passion. Our feelings are so elusive and amorphous they must be conveyed in the context of a highly disciplined backdrop or frame in order to be comprehensible to others.

I could not define a concerto grosso, I do not know the rules for the form. And yet I know when I hear one. Some of the most inspiring compositions by the baroque Italian “-ellies” – Corelli, Locatelli, Torelli – and by Handel and Vivaldi – are of this form. The one I am playing at this moment is, however, from 1924. But it still has that special grossoesque quality.

Concerto grossi are usually for string orchestras and the fact that I am a string player must have something to do with my affinity for the form. The solos for violins, viola, and cello are always so tuneful and intricate; the movements from few to many are so lush and textured. These pieces are almost archetypal to me. I carry the melodies of specific works – Corelli’s “Christmas Concerto,” Vivaldi’s “Spring,” Handel’s “Concerto Grosso No. 3, in E Minor” – with me everywhere. It is as if the form explains – leads to other truths. It is as a musician too that I love these works, they are always so playable. I have performed many of these in orchestras including this masterpiece by Bloch.

Ernest Bloch, Concerto Grosso No. 1 for String Orchestra with Piano Obbligato, No publisher (1925).  From Eastman-Rochester Symphony Orchestra, Howard Hanson conductor, Ernest Bloch, Concerto Grosso No 1/Concerto Grosso No. 2, Mercury Records, SRI 75017 (No date).  Album design – Not credited.



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A forgotten heavy rock trio.  Dust.  I received this disc from Louie the Mad Vinyl Junkie.  The members of the group were Richie Wise, Kenny Aaronson, and Marc Bell.  While this group is an interesting example of early American metal, it is important because its members made significant contributions in the punk world.  Aaronson and Bell were members of the Backstreet Boys, Wayne County’s incredibly hot band.  Bell played with Richard Hell & The Voidoids, and, most significantly, joined the Ramones in 1978 as Marky Ramone after Tommy left the band.

Dust put out two sick (in the positive murder death wipeout drowning leaden driving ponderous rock sense of the word) albums.  This album, Hard Attack, has a sick (in the creepy fascinating gory ugly captivating repulsive beautiful Frank Frazetta sense of the word) album cover.  Check this tune: “Learning to Die.”  Sick.

Dust, Hard Attack, Kama Sutra Records, KSBS2059 (1972).  Painting – Frank Frazetta; Art Direction – Glen Christensen.

Omar Ait Vimoun


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Listening to Maestro Omar Ait Vimoun.  So familiar, and yet so distant in time and place from this room in which I sit.

Omar is of the Imazighen, the indigenous people of North Africa, living today primarily in Algeria and Morocco, but also other North African nations including Mauritania and Tunisia.  They were the Berbers of Ancient Rome, and were among the aggregate of peoples we now call Moors who conquered Spain.  Through the centuries they were entwined with Arab culture and Islamic beliefs.  The influence on Western European culture of the Berbers, from scientific and mathematical discoveries, to the origination of musical instruments and artistic forms, cannot be underestimated.

Omar describes the songs on this record as stekhvar.  They are preludes to traditional suite-like compositions called nuba.  A nuba can last for up to seven hours and I wonder if they are musical arrangements of epic poems – a Berber Gilgamesh or Iliad or Lusiads.  The poems Omar sings are by great Algerian poets including verse called “Ghrib” (“The Dollar”) by Cherif Kazem:

How come we need tons of you?  We seek and follow you.  Blame not the restless, they never gambled and they never won.

He sings his own words as well, including a tender elegiac “Ode to Mother”:

My destiny had to intermingle with yours, my mother, my parent.  With hardships and burdens you raised me.  From you I wish forgiveness.

The word assaru, from the title of this album, refers to a woman’s knotted belt.  Knotted chords from the most ancient times were used to count and keep records and jog memories.  Here the assaru is the collection or anthology of preludes performed by Omar.  But I wonder if, in the Berber culture, it was the women who, with these knotted belts, were the counters of value, the keepers of memory, and the guardians of history.

Ancient Moorish modalities, extended improvised overtures on the mandol, the wandering fioriture of his singing voice . . . . sublime!

Cherif Kazem, trans. Omar Ait Vimoun, “Ghrib,” no publisher (1999); Omar Ait Vimoun, trans. Omar Ait Vimoun, “Ode to My Mother,” no publisher (1999).  From Omar Ait Vimoun, Assaru u Stekhvar, Gargoil Records, Gar 70110 (1999).  Graphic design – Chris Caswell & Omar Ait Vimoun; Photography – Christine Segrue.

Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and the Trinity


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Recorded in 1968, this record would sound contemporaneous to any era, although, it would depend on the era whether you would find it in the jazz or rock bins of a record store. These incredibly tight and well structured songs feature Brian Auger on keyboards including a Hammond B, Clive Thacker on drums, Dave Ambrose on base, and an uncredited guitarist (possibly Vic Briggs or Gary Boyle). These virtuosic players improvise with such tasty sophistication, this music is truly for all times. Notably, this album was produced Giorgio Gomelsky, impresario of the Manifestival of Progressive Music (which I will tell you about some other day).

You wouldn’t know Julie Driscoll was in the band, and her image on the album jacket would seem to be just cheesecake, if all you heard was the first side of the record. But on the second side, her aculeate voice drives the music, and she and Brian find the latent jazz in “Season of the Witch” that makes this the dispositive version of this song. More recently she is known as Julie Tippets, and in addition to her work with her husband Keith Tippet (without the “s”), she has become an important outre vocalist, working with some of the greatest experimental jazz-classical creators including Robert Wyatt and Carla Bley.

Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and the Trinity, Open, Atco Records, SD 33-258 (1967).  Album Design – Paragon Publicity, London.

The Roches


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Another album I cannot pry off the turntable. How annoying and irresistible it is! I love the black and white images on the cover. Maggie, Suzzy, and Terre. They look so smart and mean and free. Which is the one with funny low voice? And what a surprise, in “Hammond Song,” to hear that unmistakable fuzzy Fripp guitar – the first time I heard it I said, Wow it can’t be! Such complex harmonies and counter points. Like a barbershop trio. There’s Robert Fripp again.

At the Buffalo Folk Festival, I said to Suzzy, The way you sing together reminds me of the complex harmonies in barbershop quartet songs. And she was way shorter than me but she came up to me right in my face and said LIKE WHAT??? And I was taken aback by her effrontery, her strength. I did not say I had sung the baritone lines in many a barbershop song – “Ida, sweet as apple cidah” – I was shy. How much fun they must have had as kids wailing gospel songs and folk songs and the Alleluia Chorus at the top of their lungs.

The Roches, The Roches, Warner Brothers Records, BSK 3298 (1979).  Photography – Gary Heery; Album Design – Brad Kanawyer; Art Direction – Peter Whorf.



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I think the early 1980s metal groups, especially the ones out of England, were riding on the shoulders of the punks.  The punks brought us back to real rock’n’roll.  And the new metal groups like Iron Maiden and Motorhead, and this great group, Girlschool, were jumping off that sensibility with faster rhythms, shorter songs, and a sexier streetwise lyrics than the old school metal.  Girlschool further supports this hypothesis because their second album, Hit and Run, came out on the Stiff Record label, the same label that gave us Elvis Costello, Wreckless Eric, Ian Dury, and most relevantly, Motorhead.

By any standard Hit and Run is a fantastic album.  Shut your eyes.  Would you believe this is an all girl metal quartet?  Well the fact that I ask that question, and the fact that you’re even a little bit surprised shows us exactly how screwed up our parents made us, and affirms exactly what Girlschool set out to prove by being an all-girl group in the first place:  that girls can play rougher than boys.  I don’t think they do a single ballad or remotely spiritual tune.

Check out this song:  “Flesh and Blood” from their third album, Screaming Blue Murder.  WHAM Kim McAuliffe’s driving power chords.  And WHAAAAAAA Kelly Johnson screaming her pure self through each guitar solo.  And WHOMP the shockwave pounding foundation laid by Denise Dufort on Drums and Enid Williams thumping bass.  They do rawer-and-hotter-than-the-original versions of songs by boys, like Gun’s immortal “Race With the Devil” and ZZ Top’s “Tush.”

Girlschool, Screaming Blue Murder, PolyGram Records, SRM 1-4066 (1982).  Photography – Fin Costello; Album Design – not credited.

Rosalie Sorrels


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Well I am always a lady Archie, always a lady. I did not do anything vulgar.  I simply removed his right eye with my left claw.  And the next floor flusher who mentions marriage to me, I may lose my temper and slice him from gahena to duodenum!!

It is hard to imagine anyone more full with life wisdom than Rosalie Sorrels.  The pictures of her face, the whine of her voice, and her worldly songs of sorrow and peace and resignation and joy, she seems to have been through all ways and all things.  She is also a noted collector and preserver of traditional American folk songs.  Now we are listening to her sardonic humor, a riff on Don Marquis’ tales of Archie the literary cockroach and Mehitabel the alley cat.

Rosalie Sorrels, “Mehitabel’s Theme,” no publisher (1979).  From Rosalie Sorrels, Always a Lady, Philo Records, PH 1029 (1979).  Album Design – Margot Zalkind-Schur; Photography – Marion Ettlinger.

Otis Rush


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One of my A-Number One favorite blues musicians is Otis Rush and this album, Cold Day in Hell is the one that did it. My father used to tell me how Harry James could make a trumpet talk. And that’s how I feel about Otis and his guitar. He sings “You’re Breakin’ My Heart! . . . . .” . . . . . but his guitar tells you what he is saying before he sings a single syllable. Along with Frank Zappa and Albert Collins and Jeff Beck, he’s one of the few guitarists who plays with a human voice.

Otis Rush, “You’re Breaking My Heart,” no publisher (1975).  From:  Otis Rush, Cold Day in Hell, Delmark Records, DS 638 (1975).  Album design – Charles Templeton; Photography – Jean-Claude Le Jeune, Steven Thomashefsky.

Thanks to The Guy in the Groove for having a wonderfully tasty selection of vinyl, including this jem, on Record Store Day 2012, no less!

Gram Parsons


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They say this was the guy who told all those acid rockers about the true beauty of American country music.  The Byrds were one of the first big groups to make the move and he was with them when, in 1968, they released one of their greatest albums, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, perhaps the first country rock album ever.

What a life he lived – his troubled rich-kid upbringing, his time as a folky with the Shilos, how seeing Merle Haggard smacked him awake, landing with the Byrds, forming the Burritos, his collaboration with Emmylou Harris, all those drugs, his O.D., the theft and cremation of his body.

How little the gossip matters.  He was the muse, godfather, path crosser, founding member, band member, stand-in, sit-in, jam-in, song writer, song collaborator, celebrant, and partner-in-crime for an ever-expanding spiraling galaxy of musicians.  Whose musical life has he not touched?:  International Submarine Band, Dillard and Clark, Flying Burrito Brothers, Country Gazette, Manassas, Eagles, Emmylou Harris, Byron Berline, Souther-Hillman-Furay Band, Buddy Emmons, Delaney and Bonnie, Rolling Stones, J.J. Cale, and every single other mother who put some country and some rock in the same song.

This song, “She,” seems to me to be a portrait of a slave or indentured worker in the Old South.

The music is sentimental, reminiscent of a Great Songbook song, like “They All Laughed,” (George and Ira Gershwin) or “Blue Moon” (Rogers and Hart), until the refrain soars in:

Ooh, but she sure could sing.
Ooh, she sure could sing.

And then you know this is a tale about the transcendent power of music.  An unidentified “he” – her owner?, her boss? – looks down upon her, pities her, and loves her.  But the point of the story, I think, is that her music leaves her wanting for nothing and allows her to give joy to others.  She seems to be utterly without guile, to be complete and fulfilled, and yet oblivious of the cause of her inner peace:

She never knew what her life had to give her,
And never had to worry about it for one single day.

Gram Parsons is kind of out of tune on some of the high notes, and his voice is uneven and lonesome sounding.  With this rough singing, he leaves to our imagination the perfection of the voice he celebrates.

Gram Parsons & Chris Ethridge, “She” Irving Music, Inc./House of James (BMI) (1973).  From Gram Parsons, GP, Reprise Records, MS 2123 (1973).  Photography – Barry Feinstein; Album design – Vicki Hodgetts, Camouflage Productions.