Sid Selvidge – The Cold of the Morning (Album Reissue Review)
It’s safe to say that Big Star wasn’t the only 1970s Memphis act that didn’t find the contemporary recognition they deserved. They weren’t even the only 1970s Memphis act produced by Jim Dickenson to sail in that uncharted boat. Singer-songwriter Sid Selvidge, having been reared in Greenville, MS, followed the migratory trail to Memphis in the early 60s and continued to steep in the music of his native South. He fell under the tutelage of Furry Lewis, made friends with Dickenson and Don Nix, waxed an album for a Stax subsidiary and after a multi-year stint in academia, returned full-time to music to make art rather than commerce.
After an early 70s album for Elektra was shelved, Selvidge teamed with Dickenson to record this 1976 release for the local Peabody label. Unluckily for Selvidge, the label chose that very moment to go out of business (echoing Big Star’s trouble with Stax a few years earlier), returning the master and an initial press run that had no distributor. Luckily for Selvidge, the album was strong enough to gain notice with only haphazard distribution of a small number of copies. But with big city eyes upon him, Selvidge discovered that New York showcases and major label interest wasn’t what he was looking for. Instead of pursuing these leads, he returned to Memphis, revived the Peabody label as a going concern, toured and released sporadic albums of his own.
Though The Cold of the Morning garnered some critical notice at the time of its release, it fell out of print more than twenty years ago and drifted into the memories of the few who discovered its original issue or lucked into a word-of-mouth recommendation. The same could be said of Selvidge’s sporadically released later albums: treasured by a small number of in-the-know fans, but physically elusive to the larger audience of blues and guitar listeners who would have enjoyed them. The track lineup include three fine originals (“Frank’s Tune,” “The Outlaw” and “Wished I Had a Dime”), but it’s the album’s cover songs that fully reveal Selvidge’s breadth and interpretive depth. The set opens with superbly selected and rendered take on Fred Neil’s “I’ve Got a Secret (Didn’t We Shake Sugaree),” sung a shade more upbeat to Selvidge’s solo finger-picked backing.
The album’s other mid-60s gem is Patrick Sky’s “Many a Mile,” a song whose wistfulness is amplified by the purity of Selvidge’s voice and guitar playing. Reaching further back, George M. Cohan’s “Then I’d Be Satisfied with Life” retains a turn-of-the-century tone in Selvidge’s vocal slides and ragtime guitar. The jazz age “I Get the Blues When it Rains” is augmented by the piano and washboard of Mud Boy Slim and the Neutrons, and “Miss the Mississippi and You” is sung with an introspective lilt that’s less sentimental than Jimmie Rodgers original. Omnivore’s 2014 reissue adds six bonus tracks, each of which matches the quality of the original dozen. The traditional “Wild About My Lovin'” and Charley Jordan’s mid-30s blues “Keep it Clean” are especially fine, but truth be told, Selvidge picked great songs and made great recordings of each one.
Selvidge balances the nostalgia of older material with a timeless folk presentation of guitar and voice. Mud Boy and the Neutrons lend support for two tracks (“Wished I Had a Dime” and “I Get the Blues When it Rains”), but Selvidge’s picking and singing (including a cappella and yodeling) are so musically complete that the production really benefit from the clarity of his presentation. The productions are spare, but the complex interplay of voice, guitar, melody and lyrics is filled with subtlety and depth. Omnivore’s reissue includes a twenty-page book filled with photos and extensive liner notes by Bob Mehr. If you managed to miss out on this album over the past thirty-eight years, this is a perfect chance to get acquainted.