Sunday, January 20, 2008

Southern Comfort

Ever since the Driftwood Singers annual board meeting in Hobbit country, when his case was brought before the appeals committee, the enigma of Joe South has remained. As Lefty pointed out, this super-charged "electric-finger music" raised as many questions as it answered. South, we learned, was a session player in Muscle Shoals and Nashville (he played bass on Blonde on Blonde) and a songwriter (he wrote "Hush" AND "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden," for God’s sake) in addition to being a successful performer. I scored this record, Walkin’ Shoes, a few weeks before I started reading Tearing Down the Wall of Sound, a Phil Spector bio, and I half expected to find South showing up in the story; he seemed to fit right in somewhere around the squabble between Lee Hazlewood and Spector (Hazlewood thought that Spector had stolen some of his studio tricks). But where do you file your Joe South records? Is this wannabe counter-culture folk-pop with a toothsome corndog sheath? Is it swamp soul bouncing off the wall of sound? Is it quasi-Roy Orbison trans-gendered vocalizing fused with wind-blown Brian Wilson cherubim harmonies, Duane Eddy twang and Bobbie Gentry Spanish-moss-draped melodrama? It may be electric-finger music, but it’s also headphone handclap music. It’s tuned-bongo music. Water-logged-in-reverb music. Insider-outsider sonic art. Idiot savant bubblegum. All that.

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