The line that separates the genres of country and soul music has never been a particularly thick one and over the decades there has been a healthy swapping of repertoire between the genres. Jimmie Rodgers, country music’s first superstar, established himself by putting a hillbilly spin on delta blues – and that was back in the late 1920s. Most 60s soul singers who grew up in the segregated American south in the 30s and 40s probably heard more country music on the radio than they did blues or jazz, as there was little to no radio programming devoted to music for black people. It’s therefore no surprise to find that there were so many classic adaptations of great country songs during the golden age of soul music.
“Behind Closed Doors: Where Country Meets Soul” brings together 24 supreme spins on songs that were first recorded – usually successfully – by country artists. It’s not the first such compilation to do so but, if I say so myself, it’s the best one to date. As one who regards both genres to be of equal importance, and who collects both soul and country 45s, I can say with some certainly that nobody is going to be disappointed with the tracks in this top-notch compilation. (For those who might wish to check out the country originals after hearing them sung with soul, I have listed the first version of each song in the track-by-track annotations.)
Where country meets soul can be a pessimistic and dark place. Songs such as ‘The Grand Tour’ or ‘Life Turned Her That Way’ are going to have a downbeat outlook whoever is singing them; they are as tailor-made for Aaron Neville and James Carr as they are for those who originally sang them for country audiences (George Jones and Little Jimmy Dickens), while Percy Sledge sings ‘Take Time To Know Her’ with the experience of someone who sounds like he lived every minute of its bleak narrative and provides this collection with an undisputed highlight.
The place can also be optimistic and light, as Joe Simon’s wonderful version of the early Waylon Jennings hit ‘Yours, Love’ and Little Milton’s romping revamp of Charlie Rich’s ‘Behind Closed Doors’ show. Somewhere in the middle there’s Moses & Joshua Dillard’s tear ’em up take on ‘My Elusive Dreams’, a song usually sung in country circles in the maudlin manner of the original version by its writer Claude “Curly” Putnam.
There are still a few people out there who have not yet come to regard soul and country as musical equals. Hopefully “Behind Closed Doors: Where Country Meets Soul” will help to right that wrong and lead to further understanding of why so many country songs have been turned into soul classics down the years.
By Tony Rounce