Small Town Talk
Sacred Sumac Records
This album, a tribute to the late great Bobby Charles, only finds its way out into the world now – but the project began in 2007 and had Charles’ blessing; in fact – it was to have his full involvement. Since then not only has Bobby left this world – leaving behind so many great songs that straddle R’n’B and blues and soul; that helped create rock’n’roll – but Wardell Quezergue (horn arrangements) has also passed. So you get the feeling, instantly, that this record is special, partly because it won’t ever (quite) be repeated.
Helping McNally to realise this sound is Bobby Charles’ lifelong buddy and former sideman/collaborator the good doctor Mac Rebennack (Dr John). He would go on to have one of the hit albums of last year, one of my favourites (Locked Down) and in a roundabout way – recorded back then, but released now – it looks like he’s done it again. Or had a hand in one of the records of the year at least.
Derek Trucks also guests, bringing his Indian raga-influenced bubbly-squeaky slide guitar to a version of Cowboys and Indians.
McNally – who I first discovered with 2005’s lovely Geronimo (and if I’m being honest I pretty much forgot about her shortly after) – is wonderful throughout. Respectful of these songs and the writer, so comfortable with these great players and she moves from referencing Lucinda Williams and Bonnie Raitt vocally to embracing her own style, equally comfortable in country ballads (Homemade Songs) and the second-line shuffle of the opening rendition of Street People. Always right there though – right inside the song.
The record has a timeless feel about it – these songs will (help) do that of course but McNally’s voice is wonderfully evocative of the countrified soul from the 1950s-1980s and String of Hearts even hints at how Rickie Lee Jones might have approached something like this.
I Don’t Want To Know was, most recently, nailed by Lil’ Band O’ Gold with Warren Storm so wrapped up in it in that hammy-but-lovely way he has. McNally is more stately in the way she approaches it, recalling the stoicism of Loretta Lynn; the song taking on such a different emotive-shape simply in having a female voice lead it. The restraint in the piano playing, an after-hours trickle lightly creeping toward a shuffle is gorgeous.
Bobby Charles wrote so many hits for other people (including See You Later, Alligator). He basically invented swamp pop, provided notable assists for Fats Domino and Clarence “Frogman” Henry and had a performing/recording career outside of – but based around – his valuable efforts as a songwriter.
Here his memory is brilliantly, lovingly served.
And McNally has a comeback hit; deservedly this album should lift her profile. And she has a decent catalogue of her own material for newcomers. But this album invites people into the world of Bobby Charles’ music first and foremost. And that’s a wonderful world to live in – so many people have been doing that possibly without even realising it.
Small Town Talk is so comfy, so cosy, so lovely. So full of soul and grit and warmth and depth, so full of heart. It’s easily going to be one of the records of the year – this year and in fact any year.