Story Songs 

Singer-songwriter gets fellow artists together for prose collection

Singer-songwriter gets fellow artists together for prose collection

Rosanne Cash is no stranger to the literary world, having published her first collection of short stories, Bodies of Water (Hyperion), in 1996. Last year, she and illustrator G. Brian Karas completed a children’s book, Penelope Jane: A Fairy’s Tale, for HarperCollins. Her most recent project, however, has her ensconced in the editor’s seat.

In addition to her editorial role, Cash is a contributor to Songs Without Rhyme: Prose by Celebrated Songwriters (Hyperion, $19.95), a unique and eclectic compilation of prose writings by such tunesmiths as Paula Cole, Marc Cohn, David Byrne, Shawn Colvin, Loudon Wainwright III, and Suzanne Vega. “Each one of us took an idea from one of our own songs and wrote a short story based on that idea, or theme, or character, or even line from the song,” Cash says. “Some of the writers had never written prose before. Some were very experienced at writing prose, and [the book] kind of ran the gamut in terms of attitudes and process and outcome.”

And run the gamut it does. Loudon Wainwright III offers up a fictional letter to the headmaster of the St. Andrews school in Delaware, which he attended in the 1960s; “Letter to Chester Baum” was inspired by his song “School Days.” David Byrne pens a futuristic piece of prose interspersed with New York Times editorials from the year 2020; his song “A Self-Made Man” is the catalyst for the fictional piece of the same name. Papa Cash contributes “Holografik Danser,” a story he wrote while stationed in Germany in 1953 during the height of the Cold War. Rosanne Cash’s ex-husband Rodney Crowell offers a memoir of his Houston childhood in “I Walk the Line Revisited,” giving the reader a vision of the city of his birth in this passage: “Landscaped by whitewashed tree trunks, oyster-shell parking lots, roadside watermelon stands, sawdust dance floors, and Pentecostal tent revivals, it proudly proclaimed itself, ‘The murder capital of the world.’ ”

The concept for the book came during a lunch between Cash and Hyperion publishing executive Bob Miller several years ago. “We started talking about book ideas,” Cash says. “Originally, I didn’t want them connected to a song. I just wanted songwriters’ prose. But [Bob] was really pushing that idea, and the more I thought about it, the more I thought this could really be cool, because nobody writes stories that are based on songs.”

Cash, who now lives in Manhattan with her husband John Leventhal and four children, admits that working with songwriters brought its own challenges. Songs was in the works for nearly four years. “People kept getting added to the list. Some people dropped off. Some people couldn’t get it done, because they were on the road or they were in the recording studio. The deadline kept getting pushed back. It was quite an arduous process,” she says with a sigh.

Songs Without Rhyme is inventive, if anything. It may not be on the short list for a Pulitzer, but the sheer variety of voices in the collection makes it worth reading.

—Randy Rudder

Jazzed up

Violinist Antoine Silverman’s current release Blue Moods is the second album on Nashville’s newly launched Hillsboro Jazz label. The 12-song date, smartly produced by guitarist Jack Jezzro, includes spry interpretations of Clifford Brown’s “Jordu” and Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood,” plus stirring treatments of “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “I’ll Remember April,” and “Bewitched.” The disc continues the Hillsboro objective of spotlighting fine local players putting their spin on vintage jazz and popular material.

Silverman, an accomplished soloist, doesn’t engage in the wide-ranging material that marks LPs by other jazz violinists like Regina Carter or Leroy Jenkins. His playing is alternately joyful, somber, or striking, but never hurried or uninspired. He’s backed by several equally strong players, particularly bassist Roger Spencer and drummer Chris Brown, both well known and respected around town. Other solid contributors are pianist Stefan Karlson and guitarist Pat Bergeson.

Hillsboro Jazz’s debut disc was pianist Beegie Adair’s Dream Dancing, a sterling tribute to the songs of Cole Porter. Next up is Jezzro’s Jazz Elegance, which matches him with bassist Jim Ferguson and drummer Jim White.

—Ron Wynn

Soul deep

James Carr was the greatest soul singer much of the world never heard. His bombastic, rich voice was at its best on heartache tunes, where his immense delivery made lyrics about pain and betrayal resonate so mightily listeners truly felt his agony. Carr had been sick for many months, so his recent death at 59 wasn’t a surprise, even if it was a cause for great sadness. His greatest songs were cut for the Goldwax label in Memphis during the mid- and late ’60s, the best known of these being “Dark End of the Street.” This classic was the first epic number resulting from the collaboration between Dan Penn and Chips Moman.

Goldwax ceased operation in 1969, and Carr’s career was marred by bouts with depression. He made a brief comeback in 1991 when the label resurfaced, but he never fully capitalized on the momentum. Carr and Goldwax founder Quinton Claunch maintained a friendship from the ’60s until Carr’s death. Claunch oversaw periodic recording sessions during the late ’90s, before Carr’s health failed. A new 20-track CD, 24 Karat Soul (Soul Trax), features tracks from these recent sessions, including remakes of “Dark End of the Street,” “Pouring Water on a Drowning Man,” and other Carr staples, along with newer cuts.

Carr’s voice isn’t as strong as it was in his heyday, nor his diction as clear. Still, at times on 24 Karat Soul he summons the vocal authority and emphatic touches that characterized his prime songs. While the 1995 Razor & Tie anthology The Essential James Carr remains the best single Carr collection, 24 Karat Soul updates the Carr story, offering final glimpses of his gigantic talent.

—Ron Wynn


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