Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Dearest Land Outside of Heaven

Sammi Smith, who died last year at the age of 61, is known primarily for her definitive version of the Kris Kristofferson classic “Help Me Make It Through The Night.” In their book Heartaches By the Number: Country Music’s 500 Greatest Singles, the writers Bill Friskics-Warren and David Cantwell rank Smith’s rendition of it as the number one country single of all time. What’s strange, then, is that Smith only places two other songs in their top 500. In a genre where artists often cranked out records, more than one a year, Smith maybe wasn’t quite as prolific, consistent or solid as some of her peers. And though she was a part of the Outlaw movement, she certainly never reached the same level of celebrity as other country greats like Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn or Tammy Wynette. What Sammi Smith could do was to fuse a some sultry soul with all the down-and-out heartache. “Kentucky” came in at number 275 out of 500. Here she’s aided by some studio cats with Muscle Shoals pedigrees. Aside from being one of the great state-title songs, “Kentucky” is sort of like a cross between “Me and Bobby McGee” and Bread’s “Guitar Man” – wandering from town to town, only singing in crappy bars instead of hitchhiking and wearing bandanas and shit. It probably has more in common with Dusty in Memphis than with Coal Miner’s Daughter.

I’ll take this opportunity to share some other good songs about The Hospitality State. The Louvins tune is actually a cover of a Blue Sky Boys song. Oddly enough, the Louvins version shows up on their record Tragic Songs of Real Life. I’m not sure what the tragedy is here.

Sammi Smith – “Kentucky”

The Louvin Brothers – “Kentucky”

My Morning Jacket – “Nashville to Kentucky”

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