Mickey Newberry was one of those composers with a gift a bit hard to categorize. Like Gordon Lightfoot, he straddled several categories while resident in the folk genre. The power of his craftsmanship is testified to in the astounding number of covers wrought by hundreds and hundreds of chart and indie musicians (check out the Discography list at mickeynewberry.com—unbelievable!). From the moment he hit the scene in the late 60s until his very last release, musicians and listeners alike were enthralled by the gentleman's poetically sentimentalist oeuvre. The guy did nothing but get better and, in 1988, issued a CD, In a New Age, riveting for its spare haunting beauty, with Newberry accompanied only by the sublime Arizona St. Marie Rhines on violin, Edgar Meyer's bass on 2 cuts, and sound effects. To this day, it remains one of my dozen favorite night albums.
Kacey Jones has enjoyed a rather prolific career as a bawdily comedic songstress, a la Sarah Kernochnan's ribaldry, and appeared on Garrison Keillor's oft hilarious Prairie Home Companion. She met Newberry briefly whilst young and impressionable, and the songwriter gave her advice that never deserted her even as an adult, later meeting Newberry's mother, wife, and children. As with a Who's Who of country and folk music's best (Kris Kristofferson, Ray Charles, Brenda Lee, Kinky Friedman, Delbert McClinton, etc. ad infinitum), Jones loved the composer's work and decided to do something about it, producing this gorgeously pristine and long overdue tribute. Lush and affecting, the instrumentation is top-notch while Jones croons Mickey's slow and frequently wrenching tunes, catching the many nuances, highlighting, never overstating.
Included are the expected cuts, but one could hardly point to a Newberry song that wasn't captivating, so the listener gets to meet old friends in new suits: San Francisco Mabel Joy, Why You Been Gone So Long, Some Memories Are Better Left Alone, etc., fifteen mouth-watering eye-moistening tracks that woo the listener into reflection and wistfulness. Jones possesses an undeniable mastery of her art and ranges the sonic highs and lows as effortlessly as Newberry had—Rambling Blues and What Will I Do being perhaps the most starkly demonstrative in that respect—instilling each with a timbre that's melancholy and inspirational simultaneously. Not many can achieve this feat, though October Project's Mary Fahl comes to mind, and the result sends shivers up the spine.
The release's packaging is over-the-top beautiful, a quiet and stately tri-fold digipack complete with lyric booklet, a small piece of art aptly enfolding the subject matter. Expect the same layers of subtlety Newberry infused his work with as Jones spins out cut after cut demanding multiple listens. In some ways, Sings is a companion to Janis Ian's bittersweet masterpiece, Between the Lines—that's how completely Jones, as McClinton averred, has made Mickey's work her own. Quite an achievement. If this CD doesn't hit the charts or at least hover just beneath, hell if I'll be able to offer an explanation why—it's certainly that damn good.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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