Living Room Songs — track 8 “Let Him Go On Mama” by John Hartford from Mark Twang.
(The complete mix is here in case you want to get caught up again after the break.)
This was the gateway song for John Hartford for me. I happened to hear it on the radio, and I couldn’t couldn’t believe how good it was. In some ways it’s no longer the first song that I think of when I think of Mark Twang, because it is less experimental and wild than several of the songs, but you’d be hard pressed to argue that any of the other songs are clearly better. “Let Him Go On Mama” is a remarkably well constructed song, that embodies an essentially nostalgia vision with real and grounded emotion (the basic emotion isn’t that different from something like, say, “City of New Orleans” but the song feels less clever and more lived in). How can you appreciate the loving appreciation in a verse like:
At the inspection office in Louisville at a desk for a very short time
And he played in a band on two different boats working for the Strackfus line
And long ago he smoked reefer and he even made home brew
And the reefer came in through New Orleans back before World War II
(I just notice, copying the lyrics, that each line after the first begins with “And” which looks odd on paper but works to give it a conversational rhythm.)
I feel slightly bad about where I ended up placing this song in the context of the mix. I’ve said before that one of my goals for the perfect mix is that it should do a better job of selling each song than the song would do if you just played it by itself. As much as possible I want the flow of the mix to arrive at each song in such a way as to prepare the listener to appreciate the strengths of that song. I feel like I failed to do that for “Let Him Go On Mama.” It follows two powerhouse vocal performances and, in contrast, feels subdued rather than casual. Not only is the style different, it’s also a drop in volume from the previous song, which always makes for a slightly unflattering comparison (louder almost always sounds better). Ultimately however, I knew that I needed a change of mood and rather than finding a throw-away song of some sort to make that transition I just decided hope that it was a strong enough song that it would catch people’s attention even in a slightly non-optimal position in the mix.
For those people who have listened to the mix I would be curious if my sense of that matches your experience as a listener.