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God Don't Never Change: The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson

God Don't Never Change: The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson


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God Don't Never Change: The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson almost didn't happen. Though producer Jeffrey Gaskill assembled the award-winning collection You Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan in 2002, the narrowing focus of the recording industry made it necessary to undertake a Kickstarter campaign for this set to become reality. (The crown jewels for top contributors were ten cigar box guitars made from three boards acquired from one of Johnson's residences.) Gaskill first heard Johnson's haunting, knife-like slide guitar and moaning gospel-blues in 2003, then made two investigative trips to Texas to learn more. There wasn't much: Michael Corcoran's excellent historical liner essay here admits that what we don't know about Johnson "could sink the Titanic." The Blind Boys of Alabama, Tom Waits, Lucinda Williams, Cowboy Junkies, Rickie Lee Jones, Luther Dickinson (with Sharde Thomas, granddaughter of blues godfather Othar Turner, and Amy LaVere), Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks, Maria McKee, and Sinead O'Connor (with Relish). God Don't Never Change is not necessarily about unique interpretations of Johnson's work, but his influence on these specific artists. Of Waits' two appearances, his reading of "The Soul of Man" is most effective, backed by Kathleen Brennan and son Casey. Williams (who issued two acoustic blues-inspired records on Folkways before her Rough Trade date in 1984) delivers the title cut and the oft-covered "Nobody's Fault But Mine" convincingly with her own band. The Cowboy Junkies sample Johnson's own growl on their spooky, melodic read of "Jesus Is Coming Soon." His ghost not only introduces the cut but duets with Margo Timmons on the refrain. The Blind Boys' take on "Motherless Children Have a Hard Time" remains true to their iconic gospel sound, but Jason Isbell's slide adds poignancy to that sweetness. Tedeschi, Trucks, and Mike Mattison on backing vocals offer a gutbucket "Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning." Tedeschi displays ample evidence of Johnson's influence as a singer as well as guitarist. Sinéad O'Connor and Relish offer an emotionally resonant, Celtic take on the Delta gospel-blues that rocks with "Trouble Will Soon Be Over." Maria McKee does a revivalist's read of "Let Your Light Shine on Me," and plays everything herself. Jones restores the searing lyrics that the 1792 hymn "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground" was based on. Accompanied only by her guitar and Lee Thornburg's dubbed New Orleans-style funeral brass, her version is thoughtful rather than raucous, but remains raw and immediate. Most of the artists here are caucasians interpreting an African-American artist. That's not an oversight. When Gaskill produced the Dylan tribute, the only white performer was the man himself, dueting with Mavis Staples. This is the mirror image of that recording: like its predecessor, God Don't Never Change reflects the enduring, mercurial influence of the artist, but also the weight the Christian gospel imposes on questions of the human condition as it encounters suffering, joy, mercy, loneliness, death, and resurrection.

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Product Details

Release Date: 02/26/2016
Label: Alligator Records
UPC: 0014551496823
catalogNumber: 4968
Rank: 6607


  1. Soul of a Man
  2. It's Nobody’s Fault But Mine
  3. Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning
  4. Jesus Is Coming Soon
  5. Mother’s Children Have a Hard Time
  6. Trouble Will Soon Be Over
  7. Bye and Bye I’m Going to See the King
  8. God Don’t Never Change
  9. John the Revelator
  10. Let Your Light Shine on Me
  11. Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground

Album Credits

Performance Credits

Rickie Lee Jones   Guitar,Tambourine,Vocals
Maria McKee   Organ,Guitar,Percussion,Piano,Vocals
Tom Waits   Banjo,Vocals
Lucinda Williams   Guitar,Vocals
Alan Anton   Bass
Kathleen Brennan   Background Vocals
Sinéad O'Connor   Vocals
David Sutton   Bass
Lee Thornburg   Horn
Margo Timmins   Vocals
Michael Timmins   Guitar
Peter Timmins   Drums
Derek Trucks   Guitar,Hand Clapping
Billy Bowers   Vocals
Mark Rivers   Vocals,Hand Clapping
Doug Pettibone   Guitar
Susan Tedeschi   Vocals,Hand Clapping
Butch Norton   Drums
Luther Dickinson   Guitar,Vocals
Casey Waits   Drums
Jason Isbell   Slide Guitar
Mike Mattison   Vocals,Hand Clapping
Shardé Thomas   Drums,Fife,Vocals
Chad Gamble   Drums
Joey Williams   Guitar
Amy LaVere   Vocals,Upright Bass
Carl Papenfus   Bass,Drums,Background Vocals
Peter Levin   Keyboards
Jimmy Carter   Vocals
Jimbo Hart   Bass
Ken Papenfus   Guitar,Background Vocals
Joanne Papenfus   Background Vocals
Nicola Papenfus   Background Vocals

Technical Credits

Blind Willie Johnson   Composer
Rickie Lee Jones   Arranger
Tom Waits   Arranger,Producer
Lucinda Williams   Producer
David Bianco   Engineer
Kathleen Brennan   Producer
Karl Derfler   Engineer
Michael Timmins   Producer,Engineer
Sheldon Gomberg   Producer,Engineer
Kevin Houston   Engineer
Tom Overby   Producer
Traditional   Composer
Casey Waits   Producer
Jim Akin   Engineer
Jason Isbell   Producer
Jeffrey Gaskill   Producer,Liner Notes,Executive Producer
Jimmy Nutt   Engineer
Bobby Tis   Engineer
Marc Burckhardt   Cover Illustration
Mila Bagry   Executive Producer
Nicola Papenfus   Producer,Engineer

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