Blues Bytes


April 2016

Various Artists
God Don't Never Change - the Songs of Blind Willie Johnson
Alligator Records

Blind Willie Johnson

I’ll be the first to admit that being asked to comment on the work of a seminal artist like Blind Willie Johnson is a task that I find daunting. The body of work he recorded from 1927 to 1930 is some of America’s classic roots music and the new disc on Alligator Records, God Don’t Never Change – the songs of Blind Willie Johnson, calls upon artists ranging from Tom Waits to Lucinda Williams to the Blind Boys of Alabama, and many others to buy into producer Jeffrey Gaskill’s vision for the project. The artists all give amazing performances and I wholeheartedly agree with this partial quote from Luther Dickinson, “If we could hip anybody to Blind Willie Johnson, their lives would be enriched for sure.” Blind Willie Johnson’s tunes are timeless and well known so I’m going to focus on the performances contributed to this project from the various artists involved.

Tom Waits’s familiar raspy voice starts us off with his version of “Soul of a Man” ..... “now somebody tell me…about the soul of a man,” and reappears later on with his take of “John the Revelator.” Both songs are infectious with the intensity of Tom’s interpretations and his role as a singular voice in a sea of humanity plays well to my ears. Lucinda Williams makes an appearance next with her version of “Nobody’s Fault by Mine.” “When I soul be lost…ain’t nobody’s fault but mine.” Lucinda’s guttural vocal is as stark as that of Tom Waits and I’m sure Blind Willie would be proud. Lucinda appears later for a second tune with her take on “God Don’t Never Change” and her simple vocal intro to the tune sets the tone as she tells us, “God don’t never change….he’s God…always will be God.”

Derek Trucks joins the adventure with some killer slide guitar with Susan Tedeschi on vocals for another classic tune, “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning.” Susan’s vocal fits right in as she admonishes us to “keep your lamp…trimmed and burning…see what God has done.” The Cowboy Junkies keep the party rolling with “Jesus Is Coming Soon,” telling us that “when I die…I’ve got someone…Jesus coming soon…when I tell you God’s done warning…Jesus coming soon.”

A beautiful piano intro brings the Blind Boys of Alabama to the forefront as they sing their version of “Mother’s Children Have a Hard Time.” “Nobody on earth…can take mother’s place…when mother’s is gone…nobody on earth…can take mother’s place…many have started…and they just fade away…nobody keeps you…like mother will.” I find Sinead O’Connor an interesting artistic choice for this project, but her version of “Trouble Will Soon Be Over” is as satisfying to me as any cut on the disc and is an interesting change of pace vocally for my ears to appreciate.

Luther Dickinson’s contribution to the project is a tune called “Bye and Bye I’m Going to See the King,” and it’s a collaborative effort with The Rising Star Fife and Drum Band. “Bye and Bye…going to see a King…well, when I die…that is all.” The fife is an interesting foil to Luther’s slide guitar on this tune and another artistically beautiful choice. “Let Your Light Shine on Me” is the tune that Maria McKee contributes to the disc, and her vocal is absolutely stunning as she admonishes, “Let it shine…let it shine…let your light…from the lighthouse…shine on me.” Another artistic choice that surprised me somewhat, but Maria absolutely kills her vocal on this Blind Willie Johnson tune.

The final tune on the disc, “Dark was the Night – Cold was the Ground,” is a tune that NASA actually included on a recording that was sent into space in 1977 on Voyager 1 as a “timeless representation of the humanity of Earth’s inhabitants.” Ricki Lee Jones has the task of bringing this Blind Willie tune to life and her vocal is very respectful of the original and true to the vision of the song.

God Don’t Never Change – the Songs of Blind “Willie” Johnson is an amazing tribute to the work of this great American Bluesman. It’s a disc that I fully expect to be considered for a Blues Music Award for 2017, and you can learn more about the disc on Alligator’s website at Purists will love this disc, and the historical perspective offered by Michael Corcoran in the liner notes offers a rare glimpse into the life of Blind “Willie” Johnson. Enjoy!

--- Kyle Deibler



[Pick Hit][What's New][Surprise][Flashback][Feedback][Back Issues][Home Page]


The Blues Bytes URL... 
Revised: April 17, 2016 - Version 1.00
All contents Copyright © 2016, Blue Night Productions. All rights reserved.