:: Fox Theatre :: June 29 ::
By Brian F. Johnson
When Louisiana songwriter Bobby Charles died in 2010, it gave momentum to a series of events that had been set in motion years prior, to finally come to fruition.
Charles helped pioneer the south Louisiana genre known as “swamp pop,” and wrote songs in the 1950s and ’60s which were recorded by Bill Haley & His Comets, and Fats Domino, among others. In 1971, the songwriter recorded a famously “lost” self-titled album with The Band in Woodstock, N.Y., and Charles also performed “Down South in New Orleans” with the help of Dr. John for The Band’s 1976 farewell concert The Last Waltz, although the track did not appear in the film. [Charles can barely be seen in the film, during the concert’s final song “I Shall Be Released”].
Charles was a reluctant live performer and all but disappeared from public view after The Last Waltz. But in 2002, Charles heard a demo of Shannon McNally covering his song “Tennessee Blues,” and the two became fast friends.
“I had chatted on the phone with him several times but the first time I actually sat down with him was the first day of my recording for my Geronimo sessions with Charlie Sexton,” said McNally in a recent interview with The Marquee. “We went out to lunch before the session and we ended up sitting around for four or five hours, drinking multiple martinis and eating lots of fried oysters. I ended up being late for the first day of my big session and a little overly intoxicated when I got there, which I blame entirely on Bobby.”
A few years later, McNally and Dr. John, with the support and input of Charles, went into the studio to record Small Town Talk, which was essentially McNally recreating Charles’ self-titled “lost” record. McNally couldn’t have been more thrilled with the way it turned out, but was apprehensive about her ability to self-release it with any sort of bang. “I wanted this record to have a worthy sendoff. I didn’t want it to be something that came out to zero fanfare and then disappeared immediately. So we waited. In the meantime I recorded and self-released two other albums and used them as the guinea pigs to learn how to release a record,” said McNally.
McNally spoke to Charles the day he passed in 2010, and following his death his estate became interested in participating in the release. “So we decided to do it together. Before Bobby passed away this wasn’t much of a tribute. I just thought it was a good record to make. But after he passed away, you know, there was no way around it being a tribute.”
Small Town Talk was finally released this April and features McNally along with Dr. John and his band and a whole host of special guests from Derek Trucks, Will Sexton and Luther Dickinson, to Vince Gill. McNally said they made the record mostly live and did most songs in one or two takes. The songs are a seamless blend of Cajun and New Orleans rhythm and blues, with a twang of mid-century country.
McNally is touring the album with her own band, made up of husband Wallace Lester on drums and Jacob Fussell on bass (who together also serve as rhythm section for the house band on the “Thacker Mountain Radio Show” broadcast on Mississippi Public Radio). Charlie Sexton’s brother, Will Sexton, appears on guitar, and Mathew Hubbard from the 7 Walkers handles keyboards, trombone and harmonica.
“When Bobby died he was very ill and he was so uncomfortable that there was a certain amount of relief,” said McNally. “But at the same time, I was really sad that he didn’t see Small Town Talk come out and I’m certainly sad that he isn’t here with us today to get to really enjoy all of this, ’cause I think he really would have.”
:: Shannon McNally ::
:: Fox Theatre :: June 29 ::
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