Posts Tagged ‘Solomon Burke’

Saturday Single No. 354

Saturday, August 17th, 2013

I’ve been thinking about my grandfather a fair amount these past few days. No, it’s nothing incredibly nostalgic that’s got me: it’s August allergies.

A couple of years ago, when I was sneezing with bleary eyes, my mom told me that her dad had to deal with hay fever and other allergic ailments as August reached its midpoint. Grandpa pretty much retired from farming in the late 1950s – although he and Grandma stayed on the farm until 1972 – so he was dealing with pollen and dust allergies in the days when there weren’t a lot of remedies available.

On days like today when some type of pollen makes my eyes water and clogs my head, I take an antihistamine or two and I pretty much stay indoors. (At the moment, we have two windows open for the cats’ entertainment, but soon those will be closed and the air conditioning will be on for the remainder of the day.) And I cope.

For most of his farming life, Gramps had none of those options available. From what I found online this morning, antihistamines weren’t available until the mid-1950s at the earliest, and Grandpa, who was born in 1891, grew up farming and got his first farm about the time he and Grandma got married in 1915. And what with milking and other required chores, as well as haying and harvesting whatever was ready to be picked, staying indoors (without air conditioning, of course) was not an option. I recall Mom saying that when he was out on the tractor during August, Gramps would sometimes wear a bandana over his nose and mouth, and that he’d go through several bandanas a day. Thinking about it, I suppose it provided some relief, but if one is already having difficulty breathing, it must have been hard drawing breath through what must quickly have become a soggy bandana. Even so, it must have been helpful.

Could I tough it out like Grandpa did? Well, if my living depended on it like his did, yes. We do what is necessary. But thankfully, I don’t have to. I can stay indoors in the cool, filtered air and be a lot less miserable with my allergies than my grandfather was as he tended to his farm so many years ago.

As to music to go along with those thoughts, well, some time ago, I ran across a track whose title – if not its content – fits here today, and it’s by an artist whom I’ve featured in this space only once before. Here’s Bob Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm” as covered by Solomon Burke. It was released on Atlantic 2288 in 1965 as the B-side to “Tonight’s the Night,” and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘The Sun Don’t Shine Anymore . . .’

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

In the early autumn of 1987, as I was settling into my new digs in Minot, North Dakota, I got a call one Saturday from my ladyfriend in St. Cloud. She’d to the record store the night before and – knowing my affection for The Band – had picked up The Best of The Band, a 1976 anthology.

“It’s all good,” she said, “but there is one song that is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard.”

What was the title? She’d paid no attention. Nor did specific lyrics come to mind. All she knew was that the track was gorgeous and she’d lost herself in it for a few minutes.

And I was stumped. My regard for The Band at that point was based on three albums’ worth of music – Music From Big Pink, The Band and Stage Fright – and my awareness that The Band had been Bob Dylan’s back-up unit for a good length of time. I’d heard Cahoots – the album that followed Stage Fright – and had been underwhelmed, and the only attention I’d paid to the group after that came in the context of its work with Dylan: the live Before The Flood and the studio album Planet Waves.

I was aware that the group had released a few more albums before calling it quits with The Last Waltz, but I’d paid no attention. As my interest in music – like my interest in life itself – had been renewed earlier in 1987, I’d put The Band on a list of performers whose work I wanted to explore further, but time was short and the list was long. So I wasn’t thinking at all about the group’s 1975 album Northern Lights-Southern Cross, which was on my want list, and I wasn’t even aware of “It Makes No Difference,” one of two truly great tracks on that 1975 album. (The other one? “Acadian Driftwood.” As for “Ophelia,” I like it but don’t see it as quite on the same level as the other two tracks.)

By the end of that long-ago weekend, my ladyfriend had made a note of the title of the track that had so impressed her. Not long after that, I got hold of a copy of the two-LP Anthology of The Band’s work released on Capitol on 1982, and I concurred with her opinion of “It Makes No Difference.” (I also, between that Saturday in 1987 and early 1989, completed a collection of The Band’s original albums from its first incarnation, leaving for later years my own copy of The Best of The Band, the anthology that began this tale.)

My friend called “It Makes No Difference” the “most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard,” and there’s no doubt here of its beauty. But is it the most beautiful track recorded by that first version of the group? I lean toward saying yes, with the only other contenders being “I Shall Be Released” from Music From Big Pink and “Whispering Pines” and perhaps “King Harvest Has Surely Come” from The Band. And here it is:

There’s a reason “It Makes No Difference” came to mind recently. Among the performers who have come to light in the past few years, one of my favorites is Ruthie Foster, who performs blues, R&B, gospel and the wide swath of what’s come to be called Americana about as well as can be imagined. And when I had a chance to take a listen to her newest album, the recently released Let It Burn, here’s one of the tracks I found:

Intrigued and impressed, I started to look for other covers. I’d already heard – and was unimpressed by – the version that My Morning Jacket had recorded for the 2007 tribute, Endless Highway: The Music of The Band. But things got better pretty quickly. The late country-rock guitarist Sneaky Pete Kleinow recorded the tune for his 2001 album Meet Sneaky Pete, and another departed legend, soul singer Solomon Burke, also covered the song, recording a stirring version for his 2005 album Make Do With What You Got.

There were some I didn’t track down: Cajun performer Terrance Simien covered the song for his 2001 album The Tribute Sessions, and I heard snippets of numerous other covers of the song by folks with unfamiliar names as I wandered through the mp3s available at Amazon. That’s where I came across the cover version by South of Nowhere, which I like very much, that I shared here the other day.

But the most interesting cover I found – not necessarily the best; I think that title might go to Foster – was by a group of Norwegian musicians calling themselves Home Groan. The group’s performance of “It Makes No Difference” comes – if I’ve figured this out correctly – from a Norwegian radio program called Cowboy & Indianer (translating to Cowboys & Indians) that celebrates Americana music. A collection of performances from the radio show was released in 2007 as Cowboy & Indianer Sessions Vol. 1, and that’s where I found Home Groan’s performance: