One day you catch a train/never leaves the station
(Nice readers that wrote to me today while I was out and about, thank you for the heads up. I have fixed the mp3 links, so they all should work now. I am a dingbat and a half who can't spell.)
The first 49 seconds of this song are simple. Tambourine, rattling away like a warning, organ hum and a single guitar. The guitar is paradoxically, both sure of itself and wobbly. It sounds intoxicated and dangerous. A beautiful woman that you know is bad news, smiling at you crookedly and sliding onto your lap. Like a classic film noir patsy, you won't be able to resist her and she will be the end of you. Then it stops.
Calvary Cross first appears on I Wanna See the Bright Lights Tonight. Despite the genuine menace of the intro, the rest of the song finds the then 24 year-old sounding a bit muted, removed somehow. It's almost like he can't believe what happened to him so he'd prefer to think the story is about someone else. When he hits the chorus and sings what the woman of the song assures him, "Everything you do/EVERYTHING you do/you do for me" his voice raises slightly, the enormity of the situation is apparent. But it's like he's in a dream and he's opening his mouth to scream and finds that he can't. The song fades out. The promise-threat hangs in the air.
Calvary Cross (Original)/Richard and Linda Thompson
Buy I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight by Richard and Linda Thompson.
"The woman in Calvary Cross was music; a view of music as something that can posses you - in that you're looking for it, rather than the other way around...I used to feel very enslaved by music." - Richard Thompson
I've seen Richard Thompson live more than any other act. He is either, according to the Rock Snob's Dictionary, "Wry, bearded singer-songwriter-guitarist...unaccountably deified by rock critics for his intelligent yet never transcendentally great albums" or simply, a brilliant guitar player whose songs reveal both a dark sensibility and sometimes, a big dollop of corn-pone humor; all sung in his distinctive, wolf-y voice. His guitar solos* are ridiculous. He is incapable of freeze-dried musicianship, he tries to re-invent his solos ever time he plays live and it isn't always pretty. He makes a righteous mess of things at times, he's tearing out floorboards, shit is flying everywhere, and then, quite suddenly, you realize that what he's doing, right at this moment, is a million times better than what you always heard on your headphones. I'm not into the jam bands, that ain't my thing. But I'm into RT and his freak-outs; I can follow his solos-as-conversation. He isn't in it to hear himself talk.
Thompson has re-visited Calvary Cross live. Give this ferocious take, performed some ten years after the original was recorded, a listen.
Calvary Cross (Live)/Richard Thompson
He sounds like he's staring the song DOWN. The intro sidesteps the gipsy mysticism and goes for delicacy. But, god forbid you're volume is up, 'cause those first proper chords are gonna bust your ears. At 3:08, around the time the original stars fading out, he brings back that slither guitar of the original and goes off. Pay attention to how it mutates. The guitar goes, improbably, from the unmistakable sound of bagpipes to something like a whirlpool with you as the ship at the center, disappearing from view.
Buy Watching the Dark: The History of Richard Thompson by Richard Thompson.
If you ain't tired yet of hearing this lighthearted ditty about how creativity will crush you with her cold, pale hands, then here's a couple of covers! The first is a disappointment. I usually love Will Oldham's vocals, their crack and quaver, but his vocal on this is just painfully misguided. It sounds like he's going for an objective narrator/tour guide interpretation, "Here on the left is where the muse steals your soul! And here is where the black cat crosses your path!" etc... It's bloodless and I don't buy it. For completist cover-hounds only.
Calvary Cross/Tortoise and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy
Buy The Brave, and The Bold by Tortoise and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy.**
The second is something else entirely. Peter Laughner sounds like a desperate, ragged man. A million years old and begging to die. But it's not the vocal that convinces, it's the fact that he, and I have to quote myself here from this past Laughner post, doesn't try to do it like the Hebridian pagan hallucination original. Instead he gives us his own uniquely American translation. An extraordinary rendition.
Calvary Cross (Live)/Peter Laughner
* I am not, generally, a fan of solos. This is an important detail to remember.
* * Ever contradictory, you should know that while I dislike their Calvary Cross cover, this album is totally worth it for their take on Thunder Road.