Country music week: Day 6

December 21, 2012 • 5:11 am

One more day to go.

Man of Constant Sorrow” is an old country song, which, according to Wikipedia, was first recorded by Dick Burnett, a “partially blind fiddler from Kentucky.” A later version, recorded in 1928 by Emry Arthur, can be heard here.

The song has changed a lot over the years, and the most familiar version is the one appearing in the 2009 Coen brothers movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” In that movie it was called “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow,” supposedly recorded by the “Soggy Bottom Boys,” who were, in reality, Dan Tyminski, Harley Allen, and Pat Enright. That version won a Grammy and a Country Music Award.  I find it immensely more appealing than the original version.

Here are Tyminski (b. 1967) and some others, whom I can’t identify, singing the version you may have heard. If you know of  Alison Krauss and her band Union Station (I’ve posted on Krauss before), you’ll know Tyminski, who’s in the band.

Michael Martin Murphey (b. 1945) had one crossover hit, but it was a huge one, “Wildfire” (1975), a haunting song about a horse, a dead woman, and a “killing frost.” Dave Barry included it in his hilarious Book of Bad Songs (read it!), but I don’t think the song is bad at all; in fact, I like it a great deal.  And this version by Murphey is one of the most compelling live renditions of any folk or country song I know. Yes, I know that calling it “country” is a stretch (sue me), but at least Martin wears country clothes when he sings it.  The piano introduction and coda are superb:

San Antonio Rose” is one of my favorite country songs, written and first performed by Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys in 1938 (listen to their version here). Since then it’s been recorded many times, one of the best versions being Patsy Cline’s. But to my mind, the best (and swingingest) version is the duet by Willie Nelson (b. 1933) and Ray Price (b. 1926, and currently fighting pancreatic cancer).

Oh hell, I’ll put up Patsy Cline’s version, which has a great modulation near the end:

17 thoughts on “Country music week: Day 6

  1. In the MOCS vid, it’s also Jerry Douglas on Dobro. Amazing player, one of the best ever. He’s re-defined that instrument in some ways.

    1. I was going to say “Jerry Douglas” based on the sound, then I caught one of the shots of his smiling face which confirms it.

      I hope my funeral/wake has solely tunes which feature Jerry Douglas.

  2. All those who like that first one at the top who haven’t seen O Brother, Where Art Thou? need to go see it immediately. It is probably the best movie ever made of a Greek epic.


  3. The objection I have to “Wildfire”, aside from the killing frost nonsense, is that business about the horse going crazy in a storm.

    As anyone who has spent any time around horses knows, if it gets stormy, horses DON’T get stupid, they get CAREFUL. VERY CAREFUL. And slow. They’re not interested in slipping, so they watch where they put their feet.

    I remember very well one time getting caught in a downpour, and no amount of urging her to get me home before I drowned would speed up the mare I was sitting on. She got us home safely, no slipping on rocks or in mud. Wet skin dries quickly; broken bones don’t heal nearly as fast. L

    PS: My fave of Murphey’s is still Lost River.

  4. Dave Barry should stick to humor.”Wildfire”: a beautiful song and short story.I have it on vinyl, cassette and CD.
    It reminds me of another artist and song; Paul Davis’
    “Ride ’em Cowboy” (1974).Both are kind of sad and sorta

  5. The MOCS video is one of the Transatlantic Sessions, with Phil Cunningham on accordion, Aly Bain on fiddle, Jerry Douglas of course on dobro, Russ Barenberg on guitar, and a couple more I couldn’t make out.

    1. Yes, off-topic, shame on you. Er, but Jerry, I humbly suggest this be your next book.

      Back on topic, I bought the cd soundtrack of O Brother on the back of that song. If I remember the commentary correctly (yes, I’m one of those that lap up all that background stuff), part of the idea of the film was to do for American folk and blue grass music what the Blues Brothers did for blues and soul.

  6. Thanks for posting these. It’s a great crime that the Transatlantic Sessions are only now just beginning to be offered in the US on NTSC. But they are going out of print almost as soon as they are issued, it seems! (See Amazon for example.)

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