I LOVE – A Celebration of Tom T Hall’s Songs of Fox Hollow w Buddy Miller, Patty Griffin, Duane Eddy, Jim Lauderdale, Elizabeth Cook + More
I LOVE – Tom T Hall’s SONGS OF FOX HOLLOW
When a journalist takes a fancy to or strikes up a friendship with an artist, the paranoid scream “conflict of interest,” a tragedy since the best and most incisive writing comes from trust, understanding, context and proximity. Few critics enjoy the precious relationship that The Tennessean‘s Peter Cooper — himself a neophyte recording artist of some wit and skill — enjoys with Tom T. Hall, the homespun weaver of songs and stories.
By immersing himself in Hall’s songs, Cooper has emerged with a loving insight into the grace and warmth that allows Hall to transcend craftsmanship and work from the realm of the heart. Indeed, it’s that coziness that originally made Hall’s Songs of Fox Hollow such an engaging children’s record. But even more than merely a record for juveniles, it was an album that gave grown-ups a bit of nature, wonder and whimsy.
Knowing how many artists share his reverence for the man who wrote “That’s How I Got To Memphis,” “Old Dogs, Children + Watermelon Wine,” “Homecoming” and “Me & Jesus,” Cooper convinced the Hall of Famer and his wife Dixie to allow some kindred spirits to descend on his house to record an album of songs from Fox Hollow. And the toughest part Cooper admitted, “wasn’t getting the people to show up, but rather when their part was over, getting them to leave.”
Out of that camaraderie, I Love emerged — a wondrous hodge podge homage to quirky songs, charming moments rom nature and unadorned performances. Opening with Patty Griffin’s tenderly turned take on the title track, this is a love fest — cast beyond perfection — from the start to finish.
Jim Lauderdale’s “I Like To Feel Pretty Inside” merges the North Carolina journeyman writers wry wit with an inviting friendliness, while roots credsters Elizabeth Cook & Tim Carroll are tartly sparkling on “I Wish I Had A Million Friends” and Buddy Miller is mud-fence even on the wiggly “Sneaky Snake,” featuring a slithering guitar solo from Duane Eddy.
As an invitation to frolic with the flora and fauna, Fox Hollow was one big beckon — and I Love seems like one bottomless welcome hug. Bobby Bare’s “I Care” stands up as a witness to how good the classic renegade is, a solid vocal that feel conversational and a lived-in performance that’s as supple as it gets. Indeed, Fayssoux Starling, joined by Hall himself, on “I Made A Friend of a Flower Today” offers the same engaging performance that takes something so small and makes it friendly, yet profound.
The 1, 2, 3 whimsy of “The Barn Dance,” “The Song of the One-Legged Chicken” and “How To Talk To A LIttle Baby Goat” finds Gary Bennett, Mark & Mike and Jon Byrd surrendering to their inner child, innocent even as they deliver these songs with a profound reverence for the originals.
Cooper — with Eddy and Baker Maultsby — almost talks his way through “Everybody Loves To Hear a Bird Sing.” Red Beet principle and Last Train Home leader Eric Brace is joined by his band for “The Mysterious Fox of Fox Hollow,” a tale told straight and reckoned with as the song goes down.
That is the beauty of this collection: as the song goes down is the mandate and the reality which captures moments strung together with love and music, all in the name of a reluctant legend’s concept record for kids. The joy is palpable, the youth friendliness exudes from the performances. Not obvious, but obviously a labor of love for Cooper, I LOVE is the kind of tribute project the tributary can be proud of rather than cringing when it comes up in conversation.
To honor a writer of Hall’s magnitude with such fresh-faced, innocent performance is a feat. To capture the magic as it went down at the Hall’s is luck and skill — and something to remember Hall’s songwriting for.