Yes, Once More does and should sound familiar, it being the completion of a project started some time ago, with Jenni Muldaur and Teddy Thompson tackling the great country songbook, specifically as it relates to the duet format. Initially envisaged as a series of three E.P.s, it seemed to grind to a halt after the first two. These two second generation singers had memorably tackled the pair covering first Porter (Wagoner) and Dolly (Parton), the second George (Jones) and Tammy (Wynette). And then we waited.
This time, rather than a third EP, this release is a full-length disc, compiling the first 2 EPs and adding a further four songs. Again the mastermind behind this project is David Mansfield, veteran producer and player, responsible also for Teddy Thompson’s recent My Love Of Country. It seems pointless to repeat and rehearse the opinions around the first eight songs on this album: the songs and our view of them remain the same. But let’s give due space to the new butcher’s handful.
But who, you ask, who are the third and final set of salute recipients? Do the songs “Pickin’ Wild Mountain Berries,” “We’re Caught Between Love And A Love Affair,” “Makin’ Believe” and “After The Fire Is Gone” help? I would have to confess that unless you are reasonably old or a hardcore C&W purist, these won’t be the songs you have been humming along to much recently, but your Ma and Pa may well be able to help, as Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn (for it is they) were huge in the 1970s, probably the most successful pairing of the three sets of artists this release honors. Already stars in their own right, and an odd pairing, the suave ladies’ man and the no-nonsense women’s champion, but it gelled like a dream, with an album a year, 1971 – 1981, bar 1980, and all 12 singles going top 10 in the country charts, the first 5 effortlessly hitting the number one spot. Back then again they went to their solo careers and solo success, bar a further single finale, which fared less well, in 1988.
First of M&T doing T&L is “When the Fire is Gone,” a surprisingly, um, liberal take on romance along the lines of Stephen Stills’ “Love the One You’re With,” basically telling you to go a-lookin’ when the “fire” is gone at home: “Love Is Where You Find It.” This was the duo’s biggest hit, their conservative audience maybe missing the thrust of the song. Ted ‘n’ Jen stray little from the template, the first thing being to note that the song is set a semitone down than Thompson’s usual croon, at least in the verses.
“Makin’ Believe” suggests there possibly lingers some reticence, with the lyrical duo keeping up the pretense. Once again the rendition presented here much as the original, unlike the earlier two duos featured, if with a slightly more down-home feel. I guess this may be that they are slightly more contemporary anyway. (Slightly.) Most of the embellishment: piano, fiddle, steel, is Mansfield, and it is well measured and contained, courtesy Mansfield’s capable production.
I’m going to keep up the conceit about these four sings being connected, with “We’re Caught Between a Love and a Love Affair,” with its talk of sleeping around only when they can, as each also care for their woman and man respectively. Heady stuff! And there I was thinking Nashville looked down on such shenanigans, officially at least!
The final song shows they’re still at it, for “Picking’ Wild Berries,” that the excuse given for their turning up sweaty and stained on return to their respective homes. (I confess all this had me checking out the Twitty/Lynn real life relationship; seems they actually were just good friends, with Twitty and Lynn’s husband being also best buddies.) A chirpy little number in the original, with here the cheesiness dialed down a bit, if still the rockiest track here. Which isn’t a whole lot.
Actually the weakest of the three parts, I wonder whether that is the reason for the bundling of these four songs into the overall Once More collection, rather than letting them having a life on their own EP. Nonetheless, as a whole, it is altogether appealing enough, if uncertain who the core demographic is that it might be aimed toward. Will those drawn in by the Thompson and Muldaur names will necessarily have room for this, so soon after Thompson’s solo country disc last month? Or maybe this is aimed, fairly and squarely, at the (even more) mature audience at home, with fond memories of the original pairings, and maybe enough twinkle in their eyes to recall their own berry pickin’ days? If so, there is a further treat for such purchasers, able be to see it is on the old Sun label, with the traditional yellow design.
Once More Tracklisting:
- Just Someone I Used to Know
- Once More
- Just Between You and Me
- Put It Off Until Tomorrow
- Golden Ring
- It’s So Sweet
- Take Me
- We’re Gonna Hold On
- After The Fire Is Gone
- Makin’ Believe
- We’re Caught Between a Love and a Love Affair
- Pickin’ Wild Mountain Berries