What does it sound like?:
Don Nix really surprised me with this album, originally released in 1971, but out now on Man In The Moon as part of their series of Elektra releases.
He’s a name I’ve known because of his work with Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Freddie King, Leon Russell and others (also he had been in the Mar-Keys but left them and they then evolved into Booker T and the MGs), so I was expecting a fairly straightforward blues-rock album, maybe given his background a record with with some soul influence.
Looking at the song titles, the first song listed is titled The Shape I’m In, so I was naturally expecting a cover of The Band’s song that opened Stage Fright.
Not so. The song opens with proper church organ and that is a huge clue to what you get to hear on the rest of the album, because this is a hugely gospel influenced rock album. Not a soul influenced rock album, but real gospel. Not exclusively so, but gospel is on many tracks.
Then you find its confirmed its not the same song as The Band recorded. All it shares is the title. Once the organ intro has finished a delicate piano starts up with an organ drone in the background. Don comes in with a song about a man alone, but then the chorus hits with that full gospel feel
“And I could hear the choir sing
And thought of St Augustine…”
It’s full of that ecstatic passion that you see in TV documentaries about the Deep South.
It is something that has puzzled me for some 40 years or so why people (and I include myself among these people) are prepared to accept Rastafarianism in reggae, the devotional music of someone like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and other religiously influenced music, but tend to reject anything to do with Christianity. A couple of years ago while in California my wife and I were driving around with the radio on, maddened by our inability to find a music station that wasn’t Christian based. Is it simply because of being brought up with it and rejecting it that we can’t abide it.
Well this album has turned my world upside down, because despite the religion I really like it.
It includes a cover of Hank Williams’ I Saw The Light, which is nothing like Hank’s original. This is a full on gospel rendition, revealing to me that the light is The Lord. I always thought he was singing about the light of sobriety (not that he succeeded in reaching it). It’s a cracking version and almost makes me want to seek the light. Almost.
When the album does hit the sort of rock-groove I had originally expected its fairly disappointing – Going Back To Iuka. A straight ahead rocker.
But it’s followed by a return to gospel with Three Angels and its “Glory, glory hallelujah” chorus which I’m discomeknockerated to find I much prefer to the rock of the previous song.
The gospel vision permeates a lot of the lyrics. On the song She Don’t Want A Lover (She Just Needs A Friend):
“She says that she can’t live with me,
That would be a sin”
and that is despite or (because) “Her sister was a lady of the street”.
Strangely, having noted the opening track shares a title with a Band song, the final track “My Train’s Done Come And Gone” owes an awful lot to their song “The Weight” The opening chords are a pretty much a variation of that song, but the whole song sounds like it could have been an out-take from Big Pink. But that is not a bad thing and it nicely rounds off an album chock-full of unexpected pleasures.
This album was something of an obscurity. Until now I was unaware of its existence but that is a real shame. It’s not a solid gold lost classic but it is probably at least deserving of bronze, perhaps edging it to silver status in a photo-finish.
What does it all *mean*?
We (I) need to open our ears a bit more. If anyone told me here, take this gospel influenced disc, you’ll really enjoy it, I’d probably have started with a blinkered approach. More fool me.
Goes well with…
Might suit people who like…
Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Booker T…