In 1958 the Everly Brother released their second full length studio album, Songs Our Daddy Taught Us. A collection of individual tracks that Don and Phil Everly were taught at a young age by their father, Ike Everly. There is a gentle, traditional beauty about their interpretation of standard’s like Gene Autry‘s That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine or the traditional Barbara Allen included on the album. To their credit, the voices of the Everly Brothers mix together sympathetically with these spirits of the past. The sounds and songs seem to speak to us from across the generations. In fact, that’s the concept of the record. A cross-generational approach to produce the warm feel of gentler times that have passed. The sparse instumentation, traditional material and the (always) amazing vocals of Don and Phil weaving a simple melancholic story of Americana. Even the songs about hardship and unknown drifters feel like bittersweet country ballads. The record is a remarkable, if somewhat naive, achievement. And well worth your time. Each track capturing the myth, nostalgia and “simple truths” of the past through the glow of the Everly’s harmonies. The record has the sound and feel of the honest wisdom and trustworthiness a father hands down to his loving sons. The music providing the next generation the opportunity to share these tales from a (so called) forgotten times. On this level, Songs Our Daddy Taught Us is more than a timeless, heartfelt tribute to the respected paterfamilias . The music is a representation of the songs, stories and folklore of a national history. And there is nothing wrong with that. Or is there?
Of course, this idea of voices speaking from the past is nothing new. The concept of returning to a safe and familiar place is a powerful intoxicant that manifests in different ways. Unchecked, this longing for the past can be a poison within a culture or nation. Here is but one possible example; what if a once dominate country stopped looking forward to the future and, instead sought to return to the “greatness” of the good old days? What if, Instead of vibrant youthful leadership, angry old men found their way into power? Maybe old men determined to show they are still virile and sharp. If that happened to a nation or culture the future could vanish in the thick fog of the past. Perhaps before we get too romantic about these songs between father and sons, let’s consider that the past isn’t the safe haven we seek. Often, nostalgia for the past creates a cultural (and political) mirage that makes the truth difficult to find. Writer Thomas Wolfe reminded us, “you can never go home again“. A cliche phrase, but a good one. An important reminder that pursuing the ghosts of the past is not possible. And we should use this feeling of nostalgia judiciously.
In 1999 singer, songwriter and author Mark Lanegan (formerly of the Screaming Tree & Queens of the Stone Age) recorded his own collection of cover songs on his fourth solo album, I’ll Take Care of You. Choosing to cover both traditional and contemporary music from outside songwriters. The album serving as an artistic break from the his first three solo records. The outside material giving the singer a flexibility with the direction of his new project. Perhaps even liberating him from the weight of his own composition. The 11 cover tracks from the album acting as jumping-off-points for Lanegan’s own artistic vision of the music. Allowing the singer to explore the terrain within the original songs. Finding the heroes and the demons lurking just beneth the surface of the music. Lanegan’s own approach to a covers-album standing in marked contrast with the sweet folklore found on Songs Our Daddy Taught Us. Instead of a romantic version of the past, Lanegan’s whiskey-rasp reveals a deeper broken truth.
Born in Ellensburg, Washington in 1964 to absentee parents struggling with their own difficulties, Mark Lanegan was the boy who found himself alone. Allow me to say, lonliness is a strange place for a young boy to live. There is a odd cruelty within the abandoned of a child. And eventually, a young man will accept his fate and find companionship within those lonley days. Coupled with addiction, a boy or man will tear himself apart as the world stands by watching. Lanegan wrote openly about the topic in his autobiography, Sing Backward And Weep. Stating that by his 12th birthday, he was fully involved with his own companions; “a compulsive gambler, a fledgling alcoholic, a theif and a porno fiend”. Even going so far as to say that that drugs, sex, music were his essential defining characteristics. That may sound like a difficult admission for the singer. But let us be clear about this; Mark Lanegan’s forthrightness on this topic is no request for understanding. He makes no apologies for himself or the characters within his music. His words spoken only to serve his own purpose. Enough said.
On I’ll Take Care of You the good-father of the Everly Brother’s music is gone. An illusion that Lanegan dismisses on the opening track Carry Home. Written by Jeffery Lee Pierce (Gun Club), the song is a complete break with the mythology of the past. Lanegan‘s skill as a vocalist gives voice to a sober realization; the only way back “home” for the song’s protagonist is death. Instead of the intergenerational spirits, Lanegan gives a voice to the fatherless man. Knowing well the hardship and demands of the world he will face.
Your letter never survived the heat of my hand / My burning hand / My sweating hand / Your love never survived the heat of my heart / My violent heart / In the dark / Carry home / I have returned / Through so many highways / And so many tears / Sound Sample: Carry Home
The seemingly simple lyrical content of some of the source material can be deceptive. Lanegan uses his vocal to project depth and meaning within the original lyric.The title track is a fine example; I’ll Take Care of You, was origianlly written in 1959 by Brook Benton and recorded by R&B singer, Bobby “Blue” Bland. But Lanegan’s transforms the track from a simple pledge of tenderness to an expression of a broken and loveless man. At first glance, the singer is pledging his own unconditional love. Lanegan’s goes deeper. The singer bleeding-out each unspoken word. Using his own struggling soul, his pride, his masculinity to express the need for friendship, companionship and love. Rarely do we hear a singer so eloquent in the underlying request within a song or lyric. Lanegan demonstrating a primal, instinctual ability to express the unspoken;
I know you’ve been hurt / By someone else / I can tell by the way / You carry yourself / But if you’ll let me / Here’s what I’ll do / I’ll take care of you / Sound Sample: I’ll Take Care of You
Within those very simple lines is the expression of a most basic human desire. And also one of the most complex. I’ll Take Care of You is filled with rich source material. And it’s a tribute to Lanegan’s ability to select a collection of song that function well together. Using tracks by Tim Hardin, Doc Watson, Fred Neil to building a dark musical foreground. Even using a Buck Owen‘s classic from 1964 song, Together Again (later covered by Gram Parsons collaborator Emmylou Harris). Both versions are worth your attention. Some aficionados will tell you I’ll Take Care of You is the outlier of Mark Lanegan’s incredible catalog. That’s a mistake. More the just a collection of great songs, I’ll Take Care of You unfolds the naive myth and “simple truths” of the past.
Frequent collaborator and friend of Mark Lanegan, singer-songwriter Isobel Campbell wrote a heartfelt eulogy after his death on February 22nd. Calling Lanegan her, “Heathcliff, my fantasy” who had the ability to “breath mystical air into the songs” they wrote and performed together. She also mentions I’ll Take Care Of You as one of her favorite albums; Isobel Campbell‘s Tribute to Mark Lanegan