A second blog post in the month of May!

It’s a procrastinating miracle – this is the second post for the month of May! I returned home from the best conference ever (that happens in one of the best towns ever) on Saturday night. I had entertained the thought of not attending the International Country Music Conference in Nashville because, well, because I’m lazy, and I didn’t want to write the paper (which just so happened to be a section from a dissertation chapter that *really* needed to be written). The thought of seeing some of my favorite people was a strong motivator, and I made the good (and good-for-me decision) to suck it up, write the section/put together a presentation, and I headed up to Nashville last Wednesday.

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The conference was (as usual) a great experience: I got to see and catch up with some of my academic idols, favorite scholars, and smart friends; I was inspired by some really great research and presentations; I met new, interesting, smart folks; and I got some feedback on my presentation that was helpful and encouraging. I’m very, very, very glad I went.

I have a (terrible? lazy?) habit of not really paying attention to the lyrics of songs when I’m listening for pleasure, which is only made worse, of course, if I’m doing something else AND listening to music. I had a list of bands/albums to check out from recommendations and/or presentations at ICMC, so as I was washing dishes tonight, I had pulled up a few albums on Spotify. I was thoroughly enjoying the new Sturgill Simpson album, and in my (slightly) mindless listening, I caught the phrase “I’m sorry but I’m just thinking of the right words to say,” and of course, it sounded really familiar.

The song is called “The Promise,” and was originally recorded in 1988 by the British band and one-hit-wonder, When in Rome. Considering that my presentation at ICMC addressed covers, the concept is still swirling about in my head, and I could say lots about this cross-genre cover version by Sturgill Simpson… but I should probably be thinking about my dissertation instead. In any event, I will say that Simpson’s approach to the song is languid and subdued (obviously lacking the insistent dance beat of the original), but it falls into its own little groove once it gets going.

What really sold me on the song, though, are the final two choruses of the song after the guitar solo/instrumental (3:16): Simpson sings the second of these choruses up an octave (3:40). I am a total sucker for this technique pretty much whenever it happens.1  I think it’s especially satisfying on this recording due to the fact that the vocal delivery for the bulk of the song is so understated. The added intensity of the delivery in this chorus, the upper range of Simpson’s voice, and the slight melodic alterations provide a great payoff, in my opinion, and also recall the original version of the song’s chorus. I have had this song on repeat most of the evening.2 

Sturgill Simpson – The Promise

And here’s the original…


1. I’m sure this happens in songs from all genres, but I am most familiar with it in contemporary Christian praise and worship music. It’s very common in these songs, and it happens at least once pretty much every Sunday at my church. And I still think it’s awesome every single time. Not as awesome as guitar slides, but pretty darn close.


2. Also, randomly, there’s a little motive in the strings (do-ti-re-do) in the second half of the second verse (1:59) that is the primary instrumental hook for the Cranberries song, “I Will Always,” off their debut album Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? from 1993. I seriously doubt there’s an intentional quotation here, mainly because the motive is relatively simple and likely common; nevertheless, the two songs have the same feel, and are not too far apart in terms of narrative.

 

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