Saturday Single No. 442

I’m spending more time in the car lately (gladly ferrying the Texas Gal around while her fibula heals), so I’ve taken to dropping commercial CDs instead of my (now well-known) mixes into the car’s player. I’ve listened to a few by Bruce Springsteen, including The Rising, Magic and a three-disc 1978 concert from Cleveland. There’s been some Bob Dylan, some Fleetwood Mac, a blues anthology or two, and a disc titled The I-10 Chronicles that offers music heard along the western portion of that southernmost Interstate highway.

And yesterday, I finally began listening – after sending one copy back to the retailer because it would not play on the computer – to a CD I mentioned with anticipation a little more than a month ago: Rhiannon Giddens’ Tomorrow Is My Turn.

Giddens opens the recently released CD with “Last Kind Words,” her version of a song written and recorded in the 1930s by Geeshie Wiley. The song was one of the linchpins of a recent piece and resulting multimedia presentation – “The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie” – from the New York Times Magazine. A chronicle of the search for information about Geeshie Wiley and her recording partner L.V. Thomas (long called “Elvie”), the piece and its accompanying video and audio captivated me so that I’ve gone back and re-read it and re-listened to it at least twice.

And it’s left Wiley’s “Last Kind Word Blues” echoing in my head from time to time. So as I headed toward the Texas Gal’s office near 5 p.m. yesterday, it was both startling and pleasing to hear Giddens’ version of the tune. (And I wonder without answers why she dropped the word “blues” from the title.) Here’s what Giddens had to say about the track in the liner notes to her CD, which was produced by T Bone Burnett.

The landscape of American music is littered with the ghosts of the unknowable and mysterious blues musician, scratchy voices on a 78 conjuring up an era and an energy long gone. No one represents this better, perhaps, than Geeshie Wiley, who, along with equally unknown L.V. Thomas, recorded a handful of sides for Paramount Records in 1930–31. “Last Kind Word Blues” calls to me in a way that I can’t really explain, but when T Bone suggested it for the record, I knew instantly it was the way to begin.

So here’s Rhiannon Giddens’ “Last Kind Words,” today’s Saturday Single.


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