Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Digging Into the Covers: Kevin Jenkins Tackles "Wichita Line Man"

This song first got stuck in my head when it appeared in one of the darkest most depressing movies I have ever seen a documentary on mental illness call Tarnation that I highly recommend.
Jimmy Webb wrote the song in 1968 and Glen Campbell recorded it the same year.  Rolling Stone rated the song 192 of the top 500 greatest songs of all time and  has been called "the first existential country song"...

...Well it was 1968 and Campbell strikes me as hippie cross over country, so I'm sure they were smoking good in the studio at the time to give the song the lazy flow it has.

This song was covered by border line lounge lizard cheese balls like Tom Jones, Johnny Mathis, Rober Goulet, Anyd Williams, Bobby Goldsboro and Englebert Humperdink  who couldn't grasp the picture of loneliness this song. So I re-discovered the song when reviewing the  debut solo album  Jenkins most recently added his own touch to this song for Soletron the review of the entire album can be found here...

the album as a whole strays to far into r&b for the readers here, but if you listened to the song above you know it's as aching as anything the Cure or Morrissey have touched and I would say it's in the top 100 most goth songs that aren't goth.

What to know about Jnekins is he is a top notch go to bass player who has played with every one from Maxwell to Cyndi Lauper. He grew  tired of playing sideman and released his own work. He is very diverse ranging from soul...the real deal 70's stuff , think Commodores and Stevie Wonder, to Jazz to Blues.

His version is a little more uplifting than the original, though a call to the suicide hotline might be more inspirational than the heart jerking in Glen's voice, that was understated for the twang of most country artists at the time. Jenkins took the country out of it and proves the song stands on its own. He pulls off the vocals admirably and while there  are no real gymnastics to the melody , the phrasing is key and where the other cover versions have over played their hands. Jenkins shows his sense of  melody and control of his voice by capturing the feel of the original yet coming from a different emotional perspective.

When I first listened to his album it didn't hit me that it was the same song though the iconic "and I need you more than want you" line did stand out, I woke up the next morning with it in my head and remembered it was from the soundtrack to Tarnation when I sat down at my piano to pick it out.

Kevin's voice smoothed out the almost pleading timbre of Campbell whose voice has more of a tenor quality to it and the big Phil Spector like strings are replace by more soulful layered harmonies. The reverbed guitar is also gone from this more recent version but I think Jenkins instrumentation works well and sells it for me.

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