Seems funny – “Quail and Dumplings” was originally released as the first single off Wolfroy Goes To Town in mp3 and CD format. Three years later this new version is released on vinyl in support of 2014’s Wolfroy redux, Sailor’s Grave-A Sea Of Tongues. The song name remains intact but Angel Olsen’s impassioned vocal contribution is now relegated to a more background role, replaced here by two of the McCrary sisters (Regina and Ann) who once sang with Bob Dylan. This new version is faster, uses violin to create a spooky atmosphere and eschews the organ, spanish and surf guitar of the original. My first thought was that it lacked the original’s jaunty spark, but it grows likeable really quickly.
Quail And Dumplings… was always the most immediate and catchy song on Wolfroy. Interesting that in his first major acting role Will Oldham played a “budding Baptist preacher” according to Wikipedia, and here in “Quail And Dumplings” he continues that role as a character who laments his poverty but celebrates his faith. He & wife may have “holes in our ceiling” and “holes in our roof” and all hope of their American dream “gone in a poof” but like the Dylan of “When The Ship Comes In” he dreams of a turn in the tide, although unlike the cynical Dylan of “With God On Our Side” he retreats to the comfort of the disillusioned, choosing to believe “we got God on our side.” He celebrates his faith in the chorus: “Quail and dumplings, now to the end / God and her minions as our bosom friends / We got empty tummies but it won’t always be / One day it’s gonna be quail and dumplings for we.” His woman partner or wife plays an Eve role, complaining that waiting out a poor life just to achieve heaven is a mug’s game (“Fuck birds in the bushes, let’s take ‘em in hand”) to which Oldham’s Adam replies that it’s enough to have “satisfied minds and clean hearts and clean tongues.” His wisdom is thus, “we must hit the bottom in order to rise / Find peace in a hovel to find home in the sky.” This version uses faint violin to add background atmosphere, but the chorus shunts the song into its jaunty chorus before sliding back into the bruised melancholy of the verses. Nice strummed guitar rhythm. It’s more evenly spread, more streamlined and forward-leaning and also faster than the Wolfroy version, but it loses some of the original’s oomph and stylistic capriciousness. That said, the violin part at the end really brings something meaningful and sincere to the song.
Pull Your Eyes Out, Molly… acts as a thematic follow up to the A-side, but this time Oldham’s narrator is a fully fledged card-carrying God-botherer whose discontent wife, Molly, also playing an Eve role, has her doubts, her “bags.” He instructs her in faith telling her to “be my voice” and to “sing my song”, a song which “must be all life long.” Again, an unyielding unquestioning faith is the only answer to this patriarch: “We don’t need answers laid before us / We tried to set example right.” He wants her to “fill the awful night with light” and singing, telling her to “join the chorus” because “God is time and that’s my story / Thank God, the ending has been found.” Hence the title line, “I will pull your eyes out, Molly,” alludes to his solution to making her “strong and clean” so that “the less there’ll be” (of evil) for her to see. Just like the narrator of “Quail And Dumplings” he wants her to wait “until the fire shines / The warmest end you’ll ever see.” So basically, another religious nutjob, or a true disciple, an Adam, a dull old ascetic putting wanton woman in her place. The main instrumentation here is a softly played acoustic guitar, with heavier electric notes subtly planted in between verses to bring gravity. There’s a male voice backing Oldham on the chorus. The melody is present but there’s something spooky about that chorus. It sounds so sincere when really it’s quite bigoted—an area of ambiguity Oldham has made his calling. Great song this one, and a worthy B-side to “Quail And Dumplings.”
This is the first single in support of Sailor’s Grave – A Sea Of Tongues. A second single from the album “New Black Rich (Tusks)” was released in November 2014.