Tuesday, November 25, 2014

American Tune – The Cover Version #3

Some music for your Tuesday & your Thanksgiving week. It seems “seasonal” to me in many ways, & not just the obvious.

Paul Simon wrote “American Tune” for his 1973 There Goes Rhymin’ Simon album, his second solo release following the break-up of the Simon & Garfunkel act. In the context of the United States in early 1970s, with the Watergate scandal, the lingering effects of the long Viet Nam war, & ongoing civil unrest, the  song addressed a country that had neglected its better angels, as the Statue of Liberty is seen sailing away
in contrast to the approach of the Mayflower, with its underlying hint of Governor Winthrop’s “city on a hill”. The song has some nice harmonic wrinkles. Originally composed in C, the changes come quickly under the melody, with shifts from the major to the relative minor, & with some additional variations that take the song's structure beyond the basic I-IV-V format.

If we fast forward to the 2000s—& those of us who’ve been around to witness since the 1970s & before may feel that time span to have simultaneously gone by very quickly & also stretched back over a gulf—we find the song’s themes continue to be relevant. In today's video, recorded in 2008, John Boutté & Paul Sanchez give the song a reading that renders it both immediately relevant & timeless. This live recording is a nod to their wonderful album on Threadhead, Stew Called New Orleans, which is brought to a sublime close by an “American Tune.”

Fans of the Treme television series are familiar with John Boutté’s singing, & to my mind he is one of the most soulful & passionate singers around, as well as one who possesses formidable technical chops in terms of phrasing & range. There’s always an urgent immediacy about his singing, & he can transform songs drawn from a wide musical palette—from Big Joe Turner to Leonard Cohen, from Hoagy Carmichael & Gershwin to Stevie Wonder & Sam Cooke, & lots more. Sanchez is a frequent collaborator with Boutté & is himself an impressive singer & songwriter.


Image links to its source on www.johnboutte.com. Photo by Michael Crook


  1. What pathos he has - picked a terrific song, too. There's so much more to Simon's poetry than you imagine when you first heard them as a young, arrogant hippie. Very cool, I see why you admire his singing so much.

    1. Hi Cathy: Yes, he does project pathos--that's well said. I think very highly of John Boutte's singing & he'll definitely make another appearance or more in the cover song series.

      Thanks so much.

  2. And don't forget that the tune itself is based on Bach's "O Sacred Head Now Wounded" from the St. Matthew Passion.


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