3 min read

Southern Nights

Southern Nights

This week is Americanafest in Nashville, which, if you don't know, is sort of like a smaller South by Southwest Music—showcases, panels, etc. at a whole bunch of different venues all over town. Very much unlike SXSW, you can actually go do a lot of this stuff without being completely immersed in chaos. I went to Dee's (my second home) on Tuesday to see WMOT's Old Fashioned String Band Throwdown, which blessed scenic Madison, TN with appearances by Mike Compton & Joe Newbury, Jake Blount, Willi Carlisle, The Po' Ramblin' Boys, and old-time supergroup Tune Hash. Very chill, very good.

But what is a fest without a little chaos? So we waded through Broadway's drunken masses (on a Wednesday, I have my limits) to Robert's Western World to see our friend Devon guest on a couple of songs at Jerry Pentecost's unofficial Americana Awards afterparty. We got there early, and while the band set up, I heard Glen Campbell's "Southern Nights" broadcast over the speakers. Damn, I thought, I love this song. Maybe twenty minutes later, a few songs into their set, the band launched into "Southern Nights," and again I was happy to hear it. I'm always happy to hear it.

Roughly ten years ago, while I was living in Virginia, I bought a used copy of Glen Campbell's Southern Nights (the album) from the dollar bin of the local record shop. I don't really know why. I'm not sure that I had much of an idea who Glen Campbell was at the time. Maybe it was the cover illustration: Campbell, looking pensive while serving a chin cleft that would make Clark Kent jealous and wearing a very cool shirt, is seated on a porch; behind him stands a large tree and a small cabin, both illuminated by a tiny sliver of moon. A large magnolia blossom in a weird frame (?) is sort of superimposed over his lap area. It's certainly evocative. Maybe it was just that the record was cheap and by someone I'd heard of. Either way, it went home with me.

Southern Nights ended up being a bit of a mixed bag—a few great songs, a bunch of generic soft-rock ballads, and a schmaltzy "God Only Knows" cover that does nothing for me at all. Its best song is the title track, written and originally recorded by Allen Toussaint. Toussaint's "Southern Nights" sounds like a late-night meditation on a distant memory: the piano is gentle, the percussion is minimal, and the vocals—run through a Leslie speaker, I think—sound like they're being broadcast from a distant underwater cave. It's lovely and strange.

Glen Campbell took "Southern Nights" and turned it into the kind of crowd-pleasing, vaguely-funky, windows-down jam that could climb to the top of both the pop and country charts, which it did. If Toussaint's version is a meditation on a distant memory, Campbell's version is a breathless celebration of a moment that is happening right now. The words are all the same, but Campbell's delivery conveys a sense of disbelief in the goodness of the experience: it feels so good it's frightening; it makes you wish you could stop the world from fighting. Glen feels good, and he wants you to feel good, too.

"Southern Nights" always comes to mind this time of year. Maybe I'm not alone in that. Maybe that's why I heard it twice in half an hour at Robert's the other night. As the hot, humid summer winds its way into fall, the first hints of change are in the nights. And always, after another day so hot and humid that it has caused me to wonder why I ever decided it was a good idea to live here: the sun sets, a cool breeze blows by, and I hear a distant voice ask, have you ever felt a southern night? And I think, hell yeah I have.


Other Stuff:

The aforementioned Devon, aka my friend Devon Gilfillian, has a new single, "Brown Sugar Queen," out today via Fantasy Records. It's a slinky, sexy, past-meets-future R&B tune that NPR has called "influenced by Steely Dan."

Other pal Keegan Bradford wrote about the new Built To Spill album When The Wind Forgets Your Name for Stereogum last week. (Damn! I have cool friends!) Honestly, I haven't listened to the album yet, but the writing sure is good, and you should read it.

That's all for today! See you next time.