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|The Making of 'Answer Ballads'
1. Mrs Jones' Song
2. Maggie's Song
3. Daniel's Song
4. Roxanne's Song
5. Pearl's Song
6. Billy-Joe's Song
7. Marie's Song
8. Bobby's Song
9. Lucille's Song
10. Mrs Avery's Song/Sylvia's Song
11. Dino's Song
12. Jolene's Song
In spring 2012, I embarked on making an album of 'answer songs': in which hitherto silent characters from other people's songs are given voice. This blog is an account of the songs that I picked, and of how I went about writing and recording my 'answers'.
"I've had some bad times
"We had good times, I never could deny
WRITING THE SONG
'Lucille' - one of a series of emotionally manipulative story-songs from country philosopher Kenny Rogers, quite a few of which are quite ripe for an 'answer' song. But I picked 'Lucille', probably just because I like the name.
I decided to ignore the hungry children and focus on the fields. Why does he mention the fields? I figured maybe fertility was the issue (I was still forgetting about the four children, of course) or maybe- even better- he had become impotent! I liked this (I realised later that I had subconsciously imported my impotent Kenny Rogers from another song (see footnote 1), but it was too late by then).
So- the Depression, fields, crops, farms, the weather, lots of things to work with here. You're pretty much tripping over metaphors for impotence. I decided she'd had good times with him, but she was unfulfilled and frustrated. I figured she'd get out of there and move to the big city (possibly Chicago?). I couldn't see how the kids would fit into my picture, so I just didn't think about them. Maybe Lucille did the same thing.
Anyway, so I had the words but couldn't get a tune. So I sent the lyric off to my muso chum Eleanor McEvoy, knowing she'd come up with a knockout melody in no time. Having done so, she recommended Irish chanteuse (2) Mary Coughlan to sing it. Good choice- Mary has a real country voice, perfect for 'Lucille'.
RECORDING THE SONG
At the recording session in Ireland, we started off by listening to a demo made for us by Eleanor McEvoy. Eleanor's demo sounds like this:
Then when Mary arrived, we played the song roughly in the style of Eleanor's demo, but slowing it down slightly and going for a more jazzy feel:
When I got the song home I decided to change a few things. I mixed out a lot of the drums, and also took out the accordion and replaced with a sax and flute combination. Then I mixed out my own bass guitar, and replaced it with a double bass, played by Bradley Blackwell. I also recorded some backing vocals over the final section of the song. Here is the final version:
Now something may occur to you at this point: shouldn't Lucille sound American? In a way yes, she should, as should a few of these characters (and 'Dino' should be Irish of course). Now maybe, in an ideal world, I could have 'cast' each part with a singer having the correct accent. But firstly, I think this would be ridiculously over-literal. And secondly, I just don't know that many Americans. So we'll let that one slide, I think.
1 Namely 'Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town' , deservedly remembered for the line "if I could move, I'd get my gun and put her in the ground ".
2 Or, possibly, "amhránaí"