CD Review – Shannon McNally’s “Small Town Talk”
Small Town Talk (Songs Of Bobby Charles)
Bobby Charles Guidry was the undisputed king of Swamp Pop. Creator of hits including “Walking To New Orleans” and “Before I Grow Too Old,”(Fats Domino) “Jealous Kind,” (Joe Cocker, Delbert McClinton) “But I Do / I Don’t Know Why But I Do,” (Clarence “Frogman” Henry) “I Don’t Want To Know,” (Johnny Adams) and “See You Later Alligator,”(Bill Haley and the Comets) Charles had hits from the ‘50s through the ‘90s under his own name and through covers by artists from Ray Charles to Bo Diddley.
With the blessing and help of Charles, Dr. John and singer /songwriter Shannon McNally recruited guest stars Derek Trucks, Vince Gill and Luther Dickinson to cut a tribute to Charles on McNally’s Sacred Sumac label. For McNally, the chief instigator of the project and featured vocalist on all 14 cuts, the inspiration was the Small Town Talk album Charles released in ’72 on Bearsville Records, recorded in Woodstock with the help of The Band. Recorded in 2007, the project is just now being released. The original concept was just to redo the album, but Dr. John and McNally decided to include some of Charles’ lesser known tunes as well.
A funky, second line- backed version of “Street People” gets a big punch up from a horn section of Alonzo Bowens and Jason Mingledorf on saxes and Charlie Miller on trumpet. The original ’72 version featured Dr John as well, along with Levon Helm, Rick Danko, who also produced, and Garth Hudson.
Although McNally is a Long Island, NY native, her voice is a blend of Lucinda Williams and Lou Ann Barton, a Texas twang hanging out all over the place. “I Spent All My Money” sounds like it rolled out the swingin’ doors of a Texas honky-tonk.
If you ever heard Johnny Adams version of “I Don’t Want To Know,” from ‘98’s Man of My Word, re-covering that one is a daunting task. Its gorgeous soul is lifted right out of church, Adams’ voice throbbing with pain, but velvety smooth. McNally translates it into wailin’ country, Dr. John’s piano rolling out glissandos worthy of Jerry Lee Lewis’s cousins Mickey Gilley and Jimmy Swaggart with McNally filling in the spaces with a wheelbarrow full of heartbreak.
Derek Trucks pecks tentatively at the melody at first on “Cowboys and Indians,” finally breaking loose ‘bout midway when the tempo picks up, sliding around greasily in a very satisfying manner. But if you think McNally can twang, check out Bonnie Bramlett‘s sprawling drawl on her cover from ’74’s Its Time.
McNally barely restrains herself from breaking out in a yodel as Dr. John’s B3 burbles celestially in the background on the swampy hymn “Save Me Jesus,” with the Lower 911 choir ooh-ing prayerfully behind on the choruses. Despite its churchy cloak, there’s some funky bidness going on here.
McNally gives “But I Do” a forties cabaret feel, with Vince Gill adding a Les Paul guitar solo. Luther Dickinson drops in some North Mississippi Allstar country grease on a bouncy, jangly rendition of “Can’t Pin a Color.”
This compilation of swamp pop music is one of the best ever put out, a fitting tribute to Bobby Charles. Unfortunately, Charles died in 2010 before the project was completed, but his spirit is well represented here.
There’s stuff preserved here that won’t be repeated due to more musical losses since the album was done. New Orleans legendary arranger/ producer Wardell Quezergue (King Floyd‘s “Groove Me,” Jean Knight’s’ “Mr. Big Stuff”) responsible for the funky, vibrant horn and string arrangements, passed in 2011. The Lower 911 Band has also passed away. Not to worry- the band, drummer Herman V. Ernest III, bassist David Barard and guitarist John Fohl, didn’t die, they just got fired, playing their last gig in December at New Orleans House of Blues and were not included on the Doctor’s latest release, “Locked Down, with Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach.
Think of this as a time capsule from the past that hopefully foretells the future. This stuff is just too good to ever go away.