Stuff I should have reviewed earlier #3: Spencer Moore – Spencer Moore
As stated previously on ILB, the life of the freelance music hack is mainly one of realising that nobody gives a flying shit what you actually have to say, least of all the people actually making money out of the stuff you sweat guts over. So quite often reviews get lost to the ether. We at ILB think that’s a shame. We especially think it’s a shame when we’ve been writing the same blog post for three days now as a draft, and keep repeatedly deleting it when we realise there’s no jokes or points of interest in it. Maybe you’ll get it tonight. In the meantime, here’s a review of Spencer Moore’s eponymous debut album…
One of pop’s greatest treats is when an artist of advanced age suddenly just acts like they’re in their youth again. No matter how much Rick Rubin wanted “American Recordings” to be “Singstar: Alternative Rock Anthems”, J. Cash still made the best tracks of his latter years by reworking ancient standards like “Wayfaring Stranger” and “Streets of Laredo”. “Hip Hop Police” is a single of the year contender precisely because Slick Rick’s verse bares absolutely no hallmarks of any rap development since 1988. And trustafraian fave MIA has always been a great proponent of dressing like early 90s sitcom mainstay Blossom Russo, despite the fact that she’s quite obviously the wrong side of 35. Don’t try and tell me she’s any younger, she clearly isn’t.
Spencer Moore has the lot of them beat though. He first started turning the party out at live shows with the Carter Family back in the 1930s. He made his, to date, only widely available recordings back in 1959, when some joints he recorded while working as a tobacco farmer found their way onto Alan Lomax’s seminal “Southern Journey” LPs. And 2007 sees the triumphant release, aged a sprightly 88, of his debut album.
The only thing on this album that shows any signs of the past half-century is Spencer’s hip. The guitar he’s playing is 50 years old, the songs he’s singing are (usually much, much) older. Considering he’s pushing nine decades, he’s inevitably not the clearest of vocalists (on “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down” he seems to be fighting a losing battle against a large deposit of phlegm in his throat), and he’s not the most fluid of guitarists. But if studio-sterile vocals and robotic instrumentation are what you’re seeking in music, I hear The Eagles are dropping a new studio album next month. You’re going to listen to “Spencer Moore” because you wanna hear heartbreakingly honest music turned out by a guy who’s been playing and singing these songs ever since the Hoover Administration.
You know the kind of words you use to describe these kinds of rootsy, down-at-heart country-folk albums: honest, heartbreaking, sincere, atmospheric. Doesn’t make them any less accurate. But this isn’t a funeral or even the pensive hanging around of a hospital bed: this isn’t some Weekend at Bernie’s style “prop the cadaver against the microphone and hope it records twelve tracks before rigor mortis sets in” affair, Moore’s passion for music and passion for performing is as clear and lively as it must have been seventy years ago when he was performing with Johnny Cash’s in-laws. His take on “Can I Sleep In Your Barn Tonight, Mister” (a traditional anthem about the perils of your wife fucking the homeless) even comes replete with an audible sly smile on Moore’s face: this isn’t po-faced, this isn’t some historical artefact or museum exhibition about how we used to live 70 years ago. This is about folk music, this is about how these songs aren’t going to die, and how as long as musicians like Moore are performing them they don’t deserve to die either.
Of course, for an 88-year-old man, death is an ever-present figure on the album: the song’s only original composition, “Our Baby Boy Is Gone”, is about the death of Moore’s own child (“It was eleven years ago, early in the morn, God called our baby boy on the same day he was born”), and there’s a ghoulish, almost giallo traditional song about the Lawson Family murders (a notorious incident from the 1920s where a man called Charlie Lawson, seemingly for no reason, spent Christmas Day shooting his entire family before turning the gun on himself). But Moore doesn’t treat these as any reason to stop singing. He’s a working man, these songs are going to be the only impact he’ll ever make on the earth, the only artefact that’ll survive him. And it’s a truly important, deserved, and entertaining artefact to leave.
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