Living On Mercy
Last Music Company
Dan Penn is songwriting royalty. Can you even name his one greatest song? At a pinch it’s Dark End of The Street. Of course. A song so monumental as to seem like it has just always been here. Found as much as written down. But that would be to deny Do Right Man, I’m Your Puppet and a host of Southern R&B classics.
At some point in the 90s Penn started recording a few of these songs for himself – and his versions of those timeless gems have a warmth to them that is also undeniable.
He hasn’t exactly flooded the market with solo albums. And of course has not needed to. (One thing about being songwriting royalty is that you (hopefully) get to live off songwriting royalties!) But it’s sure nice to hear from him again. He’s close to 80 now and Living On Mercy is a new set of originals. And he’s in fine (enough) voice. And the songs still tumble from that pen. Though how old are some of these tunes? It’s possible there’s a few from the bottom drawer here – though Penn has a way of making them all feel top shelf.
The opening, title track reminds me of the sound and feel Robbie Robertson was aping on his Storyville album as much as it does return us to the sound of Nobody’s Fool–era Penn. The man’s best songs – and even his second-best songs – just ooze warmth and feel. Effortless chops. And everything just correct; just so, perfectly in place. So many songs about love – done wrong, done right, the clichés are transcended here for the most part.
A little world-weariness in the voice adds to the warmth of it all with I Do. Maybe I could have done without Clean Slate – but the spoken-word intro to What It Takes To Be True just seem like a bath to soak back into.
Some of these songs are co-written by his old buddy Spooner Oldham and there’s lovely gospel hints and that rich organ sound (Down On Music Row) and a few twangy, bluesy guitars too (Edge of Love).
Look, it’s a bit long, and there’s one or two too many mid-tempo ballads. But you don’t nit-pick at the man that contributed to directly, so brilliantly to the canon of popular soul songs; to the very fabric of great music and monumental songwriting. This album could be 72 songs long, it could feature video footage of Dan Penn keying cars down music row and it’d still be a three or four-star album at the very least.
I was happy to hear news of this in the works. I’m even happier to have it and hear it in full now.
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