Tuesday, June 9, 2015

"Blue Railroad Train" - 2 Versions

I love comparing different versions of the same song. There’s something very telling about the way an artist covers a song written and performed by someone they admire. They have 3 choices; they can take the song to a whole new level, as Joe Cocker used to do with Beatle songs; or they can stick to the script, which sometimes can be pretty tepid. The third choice is to improve upon the original without taking anything away from it, yet at the same time putting your fingerprints all over it in a way that actually honors the original.

That 3rd choice is exactly what Jorma Kaukonen did with his cover of Doc Watson’s “Blue Railroad Train.” When Doc wrote and sang this song back in 1991 he was a tired old fellow. He had just lost his son a few years earlier in a farming accident. You can hear it in his voice. Merle was the son who played a “happy” guitar, like Mississippi John Hurt. And Jorma Kaukonen has that  same “happy” sound to his guitar on this track. Of course he can also be really “down” when he wants to be; or it is necessary to convey a song, but here he plays homage to Merle by adding that “happy” sound to the original by Doc Watson.

When you listen to his cover of the song you have to wonder how the recording by Doc Watson would’ve sounded had Merle Watson still been alive. I suspect it would have sounded just like this.

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