26 August 2005

david ackles - "down river" (from the david ackles lp, available for purchase here)

it's early days yet, but i can safely say that this is the greatest piece of music i will ever post.

hopefully, that got your attention; w/ that out of the way, i can write about it a little. i've said elsewhere that, w/ odessey & oracle fixed in the canon and w/ multiple reissues of s.f. sorrow, the age of discovering lost music from the 60's is over--and then i remember david ackles. he has his famous fans: elvis costello's "500 records" from vanity fair, itself a monument of list-making, is where i first heard of him; elton john, for whom ackles opened at the former's american debut; and phil collins (!), who named "down river" one of his 'desert island discs' on the bbc. notable artists have covered "down river," like linda thompson, the hollies, and, um, spooky tooth (you laugh now). for all this, though, ackles remains a footnote, best-known, if known at all, as the author of a flop single by uk pop duo julie driscoll & brian auger ("the road to cairo.")

ackles sounds like gordon lightfoot if he were a midwestener--or, better still, scott walker if he remembered that he was a midwesterner. "down river" itself seems to prefigure both early tom waits ("rosie") and later bruce springsteen, himself no stranger to rosie's. i don't want to say too much for fear of giving it away; it should say something for ackles's style that one treats its revelations like the ending of a film or a novel. indeed, the bridge of "down river," introduced by an organ flourish, is as shattering as anything in pop music, as heartrending as the climax of a cheever short story or a tale from winesburg, ohio. simply put, if you're not terribly affected by about 2:19 in, never come back here.

the lyric, the vocal delivery, the sympathetic musical framing: ackles was a contemporary of randy newman and leonard cohen, but he was also an avid admirer of gershwin and bernstein, not to mention an actor as a child--interests and talents that coalesce to make "down river" unforgettable for the happy few who have heard it. i've listened to it five times this morning. i suppose the greatest compliment i can give "down river" is that it's among a small class of songs, songs that i don't necessarily listen to often--the sentiments it expresses wouldn't allow it--but when i do put it on, it's not enough to listen to it just once.

1 comment:

fred said...

this is a really great song, you know.