Monday, November 30, 2015
That's My Song - Carolyn Hester
Dot Records DLP 3604
On our way home from our summer vacation this year I insisted on a detour to Clovis, New Mexico because I wanted to see the town where the great Buddy Holly began his recording career. As we pulled into town my wife thought I had lost my mind. Clovis has obviously seen better days. We went to the buildings that housed Norman Petty's recording studio and office which are now closed although still intact and largely untouched except for the decay of time and neglect. We then headed over to the Chamber of Commerce where I checked out the Norman Petty museum in their basement. It was full of wonderful artifacts including a re-creation of the Petty recording studio. I really enjoyed it and I recommend a visit if you ever find yourself in the area. While I was perusing the exhibits I was surprised to see a copy of this record. I've had it for years but never realized it was produced by Petty presumably in Clovis. When I got home I examined the record which contains no production credits but I noticed that Petty was mentioned in the liner notes. This album was Hester's first for Dot after Columbia dropped her after a pair of albums. The liner notes emphasize the Southwestern influence on the album noting that everyone who performed and produced the record was born or raised in Oklahoma, Texas or New Mexico (Hester is from Texas.) Also the notes claim that all but two of the songs were written by people from the Southwest or are concerned with the area. The album begins with "That's My Song" by George and Barbara Tomsco. George Tomsco was in the Petty-produced group the Fireballs and plays guitar on eight of the tracks of this record. The song has a jaunty, countryish melody and a cheerful vocal from Hester. One of my favorite tracks on the record. "Amapola" is identified as a Mexican song in the liner notes for the album but it was actually written by the Spanish songwriter Joseph Lacalle. Hester sings the first two verses in Spanish and then sings one of the English verses by Albert Gamse. Her vocal is fabulous and shows off her ability to hit the high notes with ease. It is a superbly romantic song and another one of my favorites. "Ain't That Rain" is another song by the Tomscos. The song is a farm worker's lament about life's difficulties that uses weather metaphors to convey its message. The song is slow and moody with a low key but expressive vocal from Hester. "Momma's Tough Little Soldier" is the first of three songs by Tom Paxton on the album. It is a lively song about a rambunctious child. It is silly but fun. "Lonesome Tears" is a Buddy Holly song. Holly of course worked with Petty and Hester met him when she was recording her debut album "Scarlet Ribbons" in Clovis in 1957. She and Holly became friends and made some unreleased recordings together. Hester imbues the song with a bluesy feeling that I prefer to Holly's more rock and roll style original. Side one concludes with "Stay Not Late" which was written by Hester. It is a lovely, enigmatic song that reflects on the transcience of life in poetic language. Side two opens with "Everytime" by Paxton. It is a somewhat sappy love song, but Hester's vocal is so pure and emotional that she makes it convincing. "Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound" is also a Paxton song. It is a familiar rambling-around-this-world type folk song that Hester once again makes sound deeper than it is by virtue of the sincerity and strength of her singing. Hester wrote "Ten Thousand Candles" which refers to a UNESCO statistic that 10,000 people died of malnutrition every day. It is a powerful protest song given an anthemic quality by Hester's forceful singing. "The Times I've Had" is an anti-war song by Mark Spoelstra. Hester gives it an old-timey, bluesy interpretation that is very effective. "Jute Mill Song" is a labor protest song of Scottish origin. Hester's vocal is typically gorgeous, but perhaps the gritty lyrics deserved a little more bite. "The Rivers of Texas" is credited to Irene Carlyle but I've read that she denied writing it and said she learned it from a Texan in the 1920s. It is a wonderful song describing an ill-fated love affair and the singer's determination not to love again using an assortment of rivers to narrate the song's story. It gives the record a charming finish. Hester is one of my favorite singers and I'd listen to her sing just about anything. This record is made stronger I believe by the continuity of theme and sound that it derives from its Southwestern focus. It feels like a statement rather than just a collection of songs. Hester's impeccable vocal technique and the tasteful musical accompaniment make it consistently stimulating and pleasing to listen to as well. Norman Petty was obviously an excellent collaborator for her. I have a limited appetite for folk music, but I never get tired of listening to Carolyn Hester. Recommended to Buddy Holly fans who dig folk music.