18 songs – 50 minutes
The history of popular music is littered with “lost” recordings of great artists. When they do resurface, sometimes they add further lustre to an artist’s already-enviable reputation (such as the alternative takes on Robert Johnson’s The Complete Recordings, or the live gem that is Breakin’ It Up, Breakin’ It Down by Muddy Waters, Johnny Winter and James Cotton); and sometimes they remind us that, at least some of the time, musical geniuses are mortal too (viz, much of what has been released in Jimi Hendrix’s name since his death).
Folk-blues guitarist, singer and songwriter Sid Selvidge died at the age of 69 in 2013, having had a long career in music, as a musician, as the founder of Peabody Records – which released albums by Alex Chilton and Cybill Shepherd – and as a long-time executive producer of the syndicated blues radio show, Beale Street Caravan.
Omnivore Records has now re-released Selvidge’s 1975 The Cold Of The Morning, a record that almost never saw the light of day when Peabody Records’ benefactor decided at the last minute not to put it out. Selvidge picked up the rights, arranged for the manufacture of the record and sleeves and then distributed the discs himself. Having been unavailable for more than two decades, the re-release has been expanded to include six previously un-issued songs from the original sessions.
Selvidge and producer Jim Dickinson recorded the album live in the studio at Ardent Studios in Memphis. The vast majority of the songs feature Selvidge accompanying himself on intricately finger-picked acoustic guitar, with occasional support from Dickinson on piano, and from Mudboy and the Neutrons (Selvidge, Dickinson, Lee Baker and Jim Crosthwait) on “I Get The Blues When It Rains” and “Wished I Had A Dime”. He was a talented acoustic guitarist, but his voice was transcendent, dripping with deep, earth-worn emotion.
Heavily influenced by Furry Lewis, Selvidge genuinely learned guitar at the feet of the master, taking musical and life lessons from Lewis in the 1960s, and learning his mentor’s approach to bottleneck guitar, his tunings and his songbook. On The Cold Of The Morning, Selvidge turns in deeply moving versions of Lewis’ “Judge Boushe” and “East St Louis Blues”. Other “pure” blues songs include the traditional field holler of “Boll Weevil” (sung a capella), the vaudeville blues of “Ain’t Nobody’s Business”, and a relatively faithful cover of Charley Jordan’s “Keep It Clean”. His version of Fred Neil’s “I’ve Got A Secret (Didn’t We Shake Sugaree)” transcends both Neil’s version and the Elizabeth Cotten song on which it was based, imbuing it with a depth of emotion and wistful longing that is haunting.
Although not the most prolific of writers, the album does feature four Selvidge originals. His real skill however was in selecting songs written by others that he could mould into something totally his own. Selvidge had a rare knack for fully inhabiting his songs, even traditional classics like “Lazrus”, and his rendition of “Danny Boy” is almost painfully moving. Indeed, a melancholy air permeates the entire affair, even the ostensibly upbeat and optimistic songs like “Ain’t Nobody’s Business”.
Sid Selvidge stood with one foot in country blues and one foot in folk, and that is a pretty accurate reflection of the music here. There is a vast amount to enjoy on this subtle and impressive album. If you like the folk-blues of Chris Smither or Jeffrey Foucault, you will really enjoy The Cold Of The Morning.