Dawn McCarthy & Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Christmas Eve Can Kill You 7”, 2012

christmas eve 1 frontThis is a welcome return from one of Oldham’s best female collaborators (in terms of voice-blend) if not the best, Dawn McCarthy, she of the beautifully frosty-soft voice, here performing two Everly Brothers songs, a precursor to the soon-to-be-released album of Everly Brothers covers some time in early 2013. There are, annoyingly, two different versions of this 7” and let’s hope that doesn’t become a precedent. One was put out by Domino in the UK with “Lovey Kravezit” as the B-side and the other by Drag City in the US with “Walking The Dog” on its B-side.

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Christmas Eve Can Kill You… was originally written by country songwriter Dennis Linde, but recorded and released by the Everly Brothers on their 1972 album Stories We Could Tell. It was only two years earlier that Oldham added his voice to the Trembling Bells song “New Year’s Eve’s The Loneliest Night Of The Year,” in which a lonely narrator drank his blues away in a bar pining for a lost love. Naturally, we have another lonely narrator suffering, this time on Christmas Eve, “the sound of one man walkin’ through the snow can break your heart.” There’s some nice imagery in the song, pictures of “winter’s flaking snow … brushing through the pinewood trees,” “faces that still warm me with their glow,” and “the cold and empty evening hangs around me like a ghost,” which is reified as “the icy air I’m breathing.” So the narrator is trying to hitch a ride home to be with his family and someone drives by without stopping to pick him up, though he prays for the man’s soul while asking God to have pity on the stranger in the cold. So, basically, walking along, describing the cold, trying to get home, singing Silent Night to himself. The chorus: “Christmas Even can kill you / When you’re trying to hitch a ride to anywhere.” Musically, we have simple soft rock, an acoustic guitar, pitter-patter beat, McCarthy & Oldham’s voices blending their dulcet tones. The melody keeps leading us to a crescendo which never quite comes, like waves that break quietly. The final verse gets louder and more intense with violins, but it’s certainly a pretty tune, a little melancholy, thoughtful.

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Lovey Kravezit… written by Howard Greenfield and Jack Keller and released by the Everly Brothers on their 1966 album In Our Image. The song has a jokey vibe to it, sung by a bloke who has figured out how to keep his girl, Lovey, on a string of desire. He’s “playing hard to get” by rationing out his kisses which drives Lovey mad, but which keeps her passionate. i.e. lovey craves it. That’s the whole song right there. Indeed the melody has a walking pace, with a big bouncy stride for a bassline. It’s infectious, perhaps too much so. McCarthy and Oldham take different parts, though Oldham’s voice dominates especially in the chorus. Then we get a clockwork circus instrumental break before the “Lovey lovey lovey kravezit” chorus line. It’s all clean as a whistle and as cheerful as a walked dog. Nice, but throwaway.

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Walking The Dog… was released on an album of rock and roll covers called Beat And Soul by the Everly Brothers back in 1965, though it’s unclear who wrote the song. Oldham’s cover makes up the B-side of  the Drag City edition of the single. I can’t quite figure out what the song is actually about though, and quite what “walking the dog” means as a metaphor, based on the verses, one about Mae all dressed in black, who can’t sew, one about paying fifteen cents to see an elephant jump a fence, and one which steals its lines straight from the nursery rhyme “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary.” In between these verses the chorus runs “Walking the dog / Just a-walking the dog / If you don’t know how to do it / Let me show you how to walk the dog.” It’s tempting to see this as some kind of sexual connotation, but that’s because I’m bored and if it’s meant to be literal, well, we’re not left with much to go on. I guess if someone says “let me show you how to walk the dog,” there’s a touch of cynicism because he’s offering to show you how to do something very simple and natural. We arrive back at a sexual reading. Electric guitars inform the main thrust of the song, with some staccato noodling, and a pouty moochy kind of rock vocal from both singers, which is a side of McCarthy’s voice I haven’t heard before. Anyway, it’s pretty standard rock and roll fare in a blues style. Oldham kills the Mary Mary verse with some strong loud vocal lines. Then we get some weird fiddle section, slightly percussive at first, a little odd. A standard, not terribly interesting, but competently performed by all.

christmas eve 1 backSo I guess the B-sides here were leftovers from the sessions for the beautiful What The Brothers Sang album to be released a few months later, because they’re not quite up to the quality of the work on the full album, though the Christmas Eve song certainly is. Oldham and McCarthy hamming it up Victorian-cowpoke style on the back sleeves.

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About Alan Bumstead Vinyl Reviews

Alan Bumstead is a music fanatic who humbly adds confusion to the world with a string of album reviews written during real-time-listening in a stream-of-consciousness style, then edited for spelling, punctuation, flow and grammar. Apart from an additional introductory paragraph, the writing is improvised in time with the music. There is no re-writing. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- In his book Moving To Higher Ground Wynton Marsalis says, "Because jazz musicians improvise under the pressure of time, what's inside comes out pure. It's like being pressed to answer a question before you have a chance to get your lie straight. The first thought is usually the truth." I like to think that's what Alan Bumstead's all about.
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