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  The Making of 'Answer Ballads'

Introduction
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
Final
 
 

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'.

Original Song:
"Lucille"
Composed: Turner
Released: 1977
Performed by: Kenny Rogers

"I've had some bad times
Lived through some sad times
But this time your hurtin' won't heal
You picked a fine time to leave me Lucille"

Answer Song:
"Lucille's Song"
Composed: Rotheray/McEvoy
Released: 2013
Performed by: Mary Coughlan & The Rotheray All-Star Moose Collective

"We had good times, I never could deny
But good times, unlike bad times, Have a tendency to fly
For it's better I left
While the fields are still wet
But your river, your river, is dry"

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.

In this song, The Voice is a farmer, and his wife is about to leave him. Basically he is trying to blackmail her emotionally by banging on about his four hungry children and his crop in the fields. The whole thing has more than a whiff of the dustbowl, of depression-era America about it.

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


Mary Coughlan - Eleanor McEvoy

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:


Bradley Blackwell

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.

FOOTNOTES

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"