This 7” single seemed to come out of nowhere—it was announced with a link to Oscar Parsons’s twitter account whereby he supplied his email address and by writing to him, fans could procure a copy (limited to 300) for a not inexpensive sum paypaled direct to his account. Oscar Parsons was a member of The Picket Line, Oldham’s supporting band on 2009 live album Funtown Comedown, which received a favourable review from me for its great sound and live atmosphere. On that release Parsons sang backing and played guitar. “The Happy Song” is Parsons’s own composition, and here he sings with a distinct country accent. Both singers use the same backing band which includes saxophonist, Drew Miller, the singular element that makes both these songs stand out more than they otherwise would. The bass player here, Danny Kiely, is another original member of The Picket Line, and who has worked with Oldham on a number of releases.
The Happy Song… is a big old country number that sounds overly familiar in melody and style, though I’d be hard pressed to say what it resembles. It’s very catchy and after a few spins I found myself singing it for the next few days. It opens loudly, a kind of upbeat number about living in the moment and enjoying life because “the rest of your short life’s coming on strong” as it goes in the chorus, and as a result, “it won’t be too long [before] you’re long gone.” The chorus is quite exuberant with backing choir who echo the word “happy” a couple of times as the chorus rises to a brief crescendo before crashing back into its normal rhythm. The singer describes three different people in his life—a baby, a woman hooked on cheap whiskey and cigarettes, and a ninety-nine year old geezer with a cane. The first two of these he advises to “sing a happy song” because life’s too short not to, and the third, the old man with his “old toothless grin” gives the same advice to the singer. There’s a tension between this constant reminder that life is short, and yet, the old man appears to have had a long life (relatively speaking), and the woman too, is advised to quit her addictions in order to make her short life longer. Thus a kind of optimism tempered by a pessimist stoicism, or a pessimist outlook redeemed by an urge towards optimism. In any case, the only thing that really makes this song work is the saxophone warbling maniacally throughout the whole piece. The chorus, “Sing a happy (happy) (happy) song,” gets repeated probably just a little too much, in that gritted teeth, “we’re gonna smile if it kills us” kind of way.
At The Corner Of The Stairs… as always, the Oldham track on these split 7”s is usually the better of the two songs, and that goes for this one too. “At the Corner of the Stairs” is a fair miserable tune about a guy who’s on the brink of leaving his lover because of the way she treats him. This monologue is mostly performed through a series of rhetorical questions, such as “At the corner of the stairs / Will you always be there? / Will I find you even if I don’t want to?” These lines soon turn into a kind of taunt. But then the pain comes with his claim that “your body will destroy me / With its harrowing cries.” Alas the singer knows it’s unwise “to go down this hard road again” and return to his lover at the foot of the stairs. Then we get this quite loud chorus, equally harrowed, stating, “It’s not love anymore / Don’t you say that it’s love.” By song end the singer states emphatically, “No, I’m walking outside in the clear mountain air / There’s a little girl waiting for me,” and he’s off. Musically, the song floats and drifts lightly, with minimal tones, pedal steel, a gentle drum beat, and Oldham singing in fine country mode, with a touch of his melancholy Master And Everyone voice flickering through. The saxophone plays quietly but enters with more gusto towards the end of the song, and shifts the tone somewhat away from country-style, but it’s a really nice touch. Light acoustic guitar and distant piercing guitar notes shine like lights on the singer’s future with his new beau. A nice song, perhaps with just a touch of throwaway quality to it.
Did I mention this 7″ is pressed on red vinyl? It is, and after playing the record nearly a dozen times, the quality of the sound deteriorated quite quickly, until I could hear quite a bit of crackle. One wonders what kind of deals go down when Oldham contributes to these projects with other artists. This seems geared toward getting Oscar Parsons’s name out there, which is a fine altruistic gesture on Oldham’s part. He’s “introduced” me to dozens of names and old-country-timers I’d never have explored otherwise. Roll on 2017 and a new swag of hard to obtain Bonnie Prince Billy records.