Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Johnny Darrell - Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town (United Artists, 1967)
The late, great Johnny Darrell's second album is nearly as strong of an effort as his outstanding debut, As Long as the Winds Blow. In what would prove to be a recurring trend, the singer had a respectable hit on the country charts (#9) with this LP's Mel Tillis-penned title track in 1967, only to pave the way for Kenny Rogers and the First Edition to have an international smash with it two years later. A similar fate had befallen "Green Green Grass of Home" (which was included on that first album), with that particular song becoming a hit for Porter Wagoner and an even bigger hit for Tom Jones. Nevertheless, Darrell's versions of these tunes (and others that he was the first or among the first to commit to wax) remain definitive due largely to his magnificent singing voice and the excellent Nashville studio musicians with whom he recorded.
If you think about it, the fact that Darrell even had a hit on the country charts with "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town" is fairly amazing. I mean, here's a song about a wounded soldier on the verge of losing his woman because of his recently incurred disability. The line about "that old crazy Asian war," a Vietnam reference, is hardly an endorsement of that particular ill-fated military adventure, but patriotic and conservative Nashville (especially so in the 1960s) didn't seem to care, and people bought the record anyway. Noticeably different than Rogers' aforementioned later version, "Ruby" is the kind of song that Darrell was born to sing. Not only are his vocals superb, but so is his churning 12-string guitar playing. Another country standard written by Mel Tillis and one of the best put-down songs of all time, "Mental Revenge" is more closely associated with Waylon Jennings, although Darrell's interpretation is arguably just as good, especially with its fine, stinging lead guitar work from an uncredited studio cat. "She's Mighty Gone" makes it three excellent performances in a row. As he did with so many other songs, Darrell takes the work of another songwriter (in this case, Johnny Cash and June Carter) and makes it his own. (By the way, does anybody know if Johnny Cash ever recorded this tune himself? I've never seen it on any of his albums or compilations.) If you're of the opinion that the old country music warhorse "I'm a Lonesome Fugitive" cannot be covered too many times, the version on this album will strongly support such a belief. "Come See What's Left of Your Man" is another great performance that should have been a hit for the singer. Although Tommy Cash's rendition of this song is probably the best-known, at least Darrell didn't have to suffer the indignity of it being a huge hit. Side One concludes with the somewhat mawkish "I Must Have Got Something in My Eye," which unfortunately provides a sneak preview of the kind of material that would occasionally blemish the rest of this album (cf. "The Little Things I Love" and "I Never Could Add") and the remainder of his recording career. Still, there's absolutely nothing wrong with the terrific "Heaven Help Your Soul" and "Cold Hard Facts of Life," neither of which depend upon bathos to get across their messages. "It's a Rough Old Road to Travel" is another exquisite performance that failed to chart, although not for lack of quality. The album ends on a curious note with the reappearance of "Green Green Grass of Home," which, as noted previously, had also been placed on Johnny's preceding LP. Then there's the matter of Porter Wagoner's liner notes that appear on the back of this album. Did somebody in Nashville feel guilty that the music star earned a hit with a song that Darrell had recorded first? The combination of these facts certainly suggests such a possibility. Regardless of the actual reason, you can at least take the opportunity to hear what this song sounds like in stereo since my copy of As Long as the Winds Blow that I had posted last year is a mono pressing.
Get his 1969 LP, Why You Been Gone So Long, here.
1. Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town
2. Mental Revenge
3. She's Mighty Gone
4. I'm a Lonesome Fugitive
5. Come See What's Left of Your Man
6. I Must Have Got Something in My Eye
7. Heaven Help Your Soul
8. The Little Things I Love
9. Cold Hard Facts of Life
10. I Never Could Add
11. It's a Rough Old Road to Travel
12. Green Green Grass of Home