Saturday, September 12, 2009

Bitterness is Beautiful

Category: 50 Songs to Hear

SONG: Old Memories Mean Nothing to Me
ARTIST: Hazel Dickens, Carol Elizabeth Jones and Ginny Hawker
ALBUM: Heart of a Singer
YEAR/LABEL: 1998; Rounder

My father didn't like me to listen to Ernest Tubb because he was too modern.
(Hazel Dickens)

I was always much more interested in the singing. It just pulled my heart and ear toward it.
(Ginny Hawker)

I've spent so much of my time in old-time music. Hanging around with bluegrass musicians is relatively new to me.
(Carol Elizabeth Jones)

"Super groups" are nothing new. The Browns Ferry Four -- which put together the Delmore Brothers, Grandpa Jones, and a rotating bass singer of either Red Foley or Merle Travis -- was put together in 1946. The fact that three diverse singers joined forces for an album, therefore, was nothing new. The results of the collaboration between the "queen" of Appalachian-based female singers and two of her disciples produced a good album, with a definite stand-out: "Old Memories Mean Nothing to Me."
Interestingly enough, the "superstar" of the group, Hazel Dickens, was not present when this song was recorded, making it a duet between Jones and Hawker. The song is so lyrically powerful that any combination of voices would have resulted in a superb recording.

The song was written by Steve Young, probably best-known for writing the final song of the Eagles' first career, "Seven Bridges Road," from Eagles Live. The cover is slower and more deliberate than Young's original recording from 1976.
It is a biting, bitter dismissal of a former lover. "I'm not the grateful kind as you can see," the lyrics claim, "for old memories mean nothing to me." The "fine love" that the couple once had is thrown away, discarded like an old newspaper. The joy of the song is wondering at the end if the singer truly believes the words sung, for the song finishes with the line, "You don't love me now, I can see" with the title line that had followed it for three choruses left off.

One of the great joys of music is when a great song and great voices meet. That happens with this recording.

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