Tuesday, August 24, 2010

It's a gas, gas, gas

This is what you get when you give a Rolling Stones classic some real vocal fire power. Thelma Huston's gospel-edged rendering lifts the song from the back alley , saloon slurring that made Jagger's original a masterpiece of bottle cap fatalism; Houston's sonic wail is transcendence over tough details. Jagger seems stylishly situated in his droogy ways. Houston is empowered by her survival and goes onto the next level, someplace other than the neighborhood that did her ill. 


Her accelerated interpretration aligns her in spirit with the John D.Loudermilk song "Tobacco Road" (and the same named Erskine Caldwell novel) , where the narrator has become stronger for the travils visited upon her (or him) , that they will leave the place of their birth and brutalized upbringing in order to  make a fortune, and then return with a  wrecking ball and a blow torch. Houston might not be that vindictive, but she does seem just as motivated as the protagonist in the Loudermilk song.


The funny thing about 'Tobacco Road", though, is that best known versions, by the Nashville Teens and Edgar Winter's White Trash, undercut the emphatic rage of the lyrics. The Nashville Teens, from England,  sound like a bunch of mumbling , pre--droogy  proto slackers who radiate a slump shouldered uninterest in expressing their emotions, let alone articulating their desires of revenge . The Edgar Winter version highlights the band leader scat-screaming , weaving his histronic garble with the blues-bronchitis rasping of co-lead singer Jerry LaCroix; it's a drawn-out, in concert performance that is about as evocative as the typical drum solo by a third billed band at the Sports Arena during the Seventies.
Perhaps there's an unreleased Thelma Houston version of the song locked in a vault that might yet make the light of day. It should be said here that I prefer Houston's version of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" to Aretha Franklin's version, recorded some years later.  The dancer in this video, of course, are absurd and unfunky.

Thelma Houston appearing on the British television show "The Price of Fame" sings "Jumpin' Jack Flash", which she recorded on her classic album "Sunshower". The album was produced and arranged by Jimmy Webb and released on Dunhill Records in 1969. This was Thelma's first solo album before signing wi...




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