GOD DON’T NEVER CHANGE:
THE SONGS OF BLIND WILLIE JOHNSON
THE SOUL OF A MAN–TOM WAITS IT’S NOBODY’S FAULT BUT MINE–LUCINDA WILLIAMS KEEP YOUR LAMP TRIMMED AND BURNING–DEREK TRUCKS/SUSAN TEDESCHI JESUS IS COMING SOON–COWBOY JUNKIES MOTHER’S CHILDREN HAVE A HARD TIME–THE BLIND BOYS OF ALABAMA TROUBLE WILL SOON BE OVER–SINEAD O’CONNOR BYE AND BYE I’M GOING TO SEE THE KING—LUTHER DICKINSON FEAT. THE RISING STAR FIFE AND DRUM BAND GOD DON’T NEVER CHANGE–LUCINDA WILLIAMS JOHN THE REVELATOR–TOM WAITS LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE ON ME–MARIA MCKEE DARK WAS THE NIGHT, COLD WAS THE GROUND–RICKIE LEE JONES
On January 25, 2017, Texas-born gospel-bluesman Blind Willie Johnson would have turned 120 years old. Although his total recorded catalog was sparse–thirty songs in total–these sessions have stood the test of time, and have influenced countless other performers, even some seventy years following his death in 1945.
In 2016, Alligator Records released “God Don’t Never Change,” and, with this milestone birthday upon us, we humbly offer our thoughts on this outstanding compilation. It brings together players from the blues, gospel, Americana, and contemporary popular music to show how Johnson’s music channeled the explosiveness of the blues into powerful religious messages.
The North Mississippi Hill Country vibe is prevalent on two cuts. First up, Luther Dickinson’s slide guitar rambles over the breezy “Bye And Bye I’m Going To See The King,” and he is backed by members of the Rising Star Fife And Drum Band, championed for many years by the late Otha Turner. And, the droning beat of “Trouble Will Soon Be Over” drives the righteous cries of Sinead O’Connor as she declares, “someday I’ll rest with Jesus.”
Maria Mckee gives a spirited read of “Let Your Light Shine On Me,” and captures the true Sunday-morning feel of this song with a version that would be right at home in your own neighborhood church. Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi also stay true to Willie’s original interpretation of “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed And Burning,” while Lucinda Williams’ slide guitar rides the blinds on Willie’s tale of redemption–“when I die, if my soul be lost, It’s Nobody’s Fault But Mine.”
We had two favorites, too. The Cowboy Junkies’ arrangement of “Jesus Is Coming Soon” uses sound bytes from Willie’s original as lead singer Margo Timmins’ haunting vocal re-affirms “God done warned us—Jesus Is Coming Soon.” And, Tom Waits channels the very soul of Johnson himself with a Doomsday-is-coming spin on the powerful “John The Revelator,” detailing the fall of Adam.
“God Don’t Never Change” shows how the music of Blind Willie Johnson not only used blues to convey a spiritual message, but how this music influenced generations of players from many diverse backgrounds. This set brings it all together–joy, pain, love, life, death, and eventual resurrection! Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow, The Nashville Blues Society.