Monday, March 31, 2008
"Funny How Time Slips Away" - The Series (#1)
Al Green - Funny How Time Slips Away
Al Green & Lyle Lovett - Funny How Time Slips Away
There are certain songs in the classic soul songbook that were so good that multiple versions were recorded by quite an array of artists. Some of them, like "The Dark End of the Street," started out as soul songs, but quite a few pop and country songs made their way onto R&B records, with the Lennon-McCartney songs leading the way. For a bulk of this week, however, I will turn to the "Red Headed Stranger," country music legend Willie Nelson, and the oft-recorded "Funny How Time Slips Away." When Nelson wrote "Funny," he was in full bloom in the first half of his music career. At the time, Nelson was relatively unknown as a recording artist but had notched up some hits as a songwriter with songs like the Patsy Cline classic "Crazy" and "Hello Walls" by Faron Young. (Nelson, of course, would go on to achieve superstardom as a recording artist in the '70s and '80s as one of the founding members of the "outlaw country" movement.) Billy Walker would go on to have a hit with the song, and a steady stream of country, pop and R&B acts would add the song to their catalogue over the next four decades.
Today's post and the following three posts will feature nine R&B-related versions of the classic Willie Nelson song. (I've actually heard more than nine, but made an editorial choice to cut out Brook Benton, Diana Ross & The Supremes and Stevie Wonder, whose versions of the song, although not bad, weren't favorites of mine.) I considered doing a mini-podcast, but I realized that unlike the "Mr. Big Stuff" set I did some time ago (in which answer records and the like broke up the monotony), to subject one to nine versions of the same song would be a bit too much to bear. Four days' worth of tracks, taken two or three at a time, will be better.
Today's two selections both involve Al Green, who clearly needs no introduction on this blog. As a master interpreter of songs, Green had no problems recording country material on his classic Hi albums - his version of Kris Kristofferson's "For the Good Times" became a signature tune for him - and his first recorded version of "Funny" was part of the Call Me album. The slower arrangement (with the lush sounds of the Hi Rhythm proving to be as ethereal as always) allowed Green to stretch out his vocals, which included a little of his preaching style of ad-libs and lots of great multitracked call-and-response to go along with Rhodes, Chalmers and Rhodes' backup vocals.
A little over twenty years later, Al Green would join Sam Moore, B.B. King, Patti LaBelle, the Staple Singers, Little Richard and others R&B acts on the Don Was-produced Rhythm, Country & Blues, a concept album built on the (correct) premise that R&B and country music contained more similarities than many would think. In keeping with that idea, a country and R&B act was paired to perform either a country or an R&B song. The end result was decidedly mixed, with some pairings almost having an "oil and water" chemistry or performances that just seemed forced, but there were a few highlights: Sam Moore and Conway Twitty's take on "Rainy Night in Georgia" ended up getting a lot of attention in country circles, in part because it proved to be one of Twitty's very last recordings; B.B. King and George Jones' duet on "Patches," albeit somewhat mawkish, is pretty good; the Staple Singers and Marty Stuart lay down a nice version of "The Weight" (which the Staples had also done over two decades prior); and the Rev. Al hooked up with the eccentric country singer Lyle Lovett on "Funny," an effort that earned the two a Grammy. The arrangement on this version was pretty ambitious, mixing a funky groove with the Hi sound (Teenie Hodges and the Memphis Horns participated) and some nice country steel guitar work. Al discarded the subtleties of his earlier version for this go-round, going instead with gusto, and Lovett's cool yet soulful vocals provide a nice counterpoint.