Monday, February 20, 2006

Motorcyle madness

You can get in big trouble with a motorcycle, and a quick trip to the iTunes Music Store makes it clear how.

Terry Teachout, the Wall Street Journal theater critic, blogged about a favorite playlist that includes a Del McCoury version* of Richard Thompson's "1952 Vincent Black Lightning." I went off to iTMS to find the track; no luck, but there were several other versions. Unfortunately, most of them (other than Thompson's) were downright embarrassing.

"1952 Vincent Black Lightning" is so much fun to listen to when Thompson does it that you forget its complicated underpinnings, which include Thompson's masterful guitar arrangement and the song's roots in very old English folk songs -- the kind in which the lyrics and the music reel about one another like a couple of drunks on a dark country road.

Nearly all of the interpretations try to impose a steady rhythm on the song, killing it dead in a few measures. Interestingly, the only version that works for me was one by Alan Rhody. Not sure who he is, but he does duets on the album (Journey) with John Prine and Maura O'Connell; like Prine and Thompson, he has that "less-is-more" storyteller style. Plus one hell of a fiddler backing him up on the Prine duet "That's Who I'd Be." (NOTE: No kidding. The fiddler turns out to be the late John Hartford.)

*a version that became the International Bluegrass Music Association's 2002 Song of the Year.

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