Wanda Jackson – Blues In My Heart (Capitol 1965)
The string period in Country music has always been a hard one for me to digest. I find strings on a Patsy Cline song are easier to listen to than a Jim Reeves song. But then I’ve never been a big fan of Reeves’ smooth Country style. He was the first to really usher in the “Nashville Sound” in the late ‘50s. Wanda Jackson was no different than most other Country artists in the early to mid-‘60s. By the time of Blues In My Heart she had shed her early rockabilly sound for a more mainstream Country output with plenty of lush string arrangements. For a Blues-themed record do strings work? Well, for starters, this isn’t a Blues album in the traditional African-American art form sense, although the basic elements do appear here because they are after all very much a part of the DNA of Country music. These are all Country songs about having “the blues”. Of course “the blues” are universal and go beyond the defining perimeter of a genre of music, just as being Rock ‘N’ Roll, or being Punk, or simply being Country is a state of mind.
The album opener and title track is a cover of Red Foley’s 1948 hit. The strings come hard and heavy right out of the gate on this one, and are joined by another element that irritates me – the choral background singers. It’s all adds up to what makes so much of the period hokey sounding. But then I pick up the sparse guitar and brush snare, and then lock onto Wanda’s voice, and I’m able to ignore what I don’t like and focus on what I do. Ultimately I find myself just accepting this for what it is and it’s quite pleasing to the ears. “Lonely Street” is more of a Pop song (and a hit for Andy Williams), but it still wallows in despair. “Midnight”, another Foley tune written by Boudreaux Bryant and Chet Atkins gives us a little more of an R&B feel.
Then comes the song that I grabbed this record for: “Weary Blues From Waiting” by Hank Williams. One of two Hank songs on the album, “Weary” is a haunting blues ballad that Hank had recorded a demo of with just himself and his guitar. It wasn’t released until after his passing, and then re-released with a full-band accompaniment. The added instrumentation robbed the song of its deep soul, and its stark confessional nature. As for Wanda’s take on it: I LOVE IT! The combination of Wanda’s voice with Hank’s words supersedes anything that could be wrong with the track. Fortunately no strings appear, and the acoustic guitar and piano help me ignore the useless background vocals. Hank’s immortal “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” can’t escape the string & vocal treatment, but by the time you get to it three quarters of the way into the record, you’re either down with it or not.
Other highlights from the album are Don Gibson’s upbeat “Oh Lonesome Me”, a down home take on the Delmore Brothers classic “Blues Stay Away From Me”, which you can hear the influence Wanda’s old friend Elvis had on her as I can hear him singing this (and surprised he never did). Harlan Howard’s “Just For You” delivers some Charlie McCoy styled country harmonica (not sure who plays here, but it could be him). The album closes out with two fine treatments of Country nuggets, Willie Nelson’s “Night Life” and Marty Robbins’ hit “Singing The Blues”. All in all this is a fun listen, good for dancing and cocktails, or just mellowing out. Nothing world-changing (although “Weary” is gonna be on one of my playlists for sure) but a good time commiserating with Wanda and those pesky blues.