Bobby Charles

Last Train To Memphis
Proper PRPCD016

Disc 1:  Last Train To Memphis / The Legend Of Jolie Blonde / I Spent All My Money Loving You / String Of Hearts / I Wonder / Everyday / Don’t Make A Fool Of Yourself / Homesick Blues / Forever And Always / The Sky Isn’t Blue Anymore / Full Moon On The Bayou / What Are We Doing / Sing / Goin’ Fishin’ / See You Later Alligator
(Playing time: 58:16)

Disc 2:  I Can’t Quit You / Secrets / Angel Eyes / But I Do / Party Town / I Don’t Want To Know / Love In The Worst Degree / Why Are People Like That? / I Believe In Angels / Les Champs Elysee / Not Ready Yet / The Jealous Kind / I Want To Be The One / Walking To New Orleans / I Remember When / Ambushin’ Bastard / I Don’t See Me / Wish You Were Here Right Now / Clean Water
(Playing time: 65:49)

Hats off to Proper Records for issuing this double CD by one of the truly great songwriters/performers of the past 50 years! The first CD includes 15 tracks, mostly recent recordings, with some dating back to the ’70s and ’80s remixed and issued for the first time. The second CD contains 18 tracks from his last three CDs (‘Wish You Were Here Right Now’, ‘Secrets Of The Heart’ and ‘Clean Water’). For those familiar with his work, this latest collection is as impressive — and varied — as always. The central feature of all tracks is, of course, Bobby’s totally distinctive voice — natural, direct and totally honest, made all the more effective by its fairly narrow range. He also writes some of the most insistent melodies ever — hear them twice and you cannot get them out of your brain. (After all, he wrote ‘Walking To New Orleans’ and ‘But I Do’ — two songs that sound like they have been with us forever.) His other great strength is his ability to provide a varied range of instrumental backings, ranging from simple acoustic guitars on ‘Goin’ Fishing’, a straight down the road rock n roll sound on ‘Last Train To Memphis’ (his tribute to Elvis, with Delbert McClinton on harmonica), and a big fat Louisiana sound on ‘I Spent All My Money Loving You’ (which Fats Domino recently recorded, using Bobby’s backing track).

Three of the strongest melodies are on the Nashville recordings, dating back to the ’70s — ‘I Wonder’, ‘Everyday’ (Norbert Putnam on bass) and ‘Sing’ (Grady Martin on guitar) — play them once, and you find you rself reaching for the ‘repeat’ button. There are two fabulous tracks recorded at Willie Nelson’s studio in the mid’ 80s, with Willie playing his best Django Reinhard-style: ‘Homesick Blues’, destined to become a classic, and ‘Full Moon On The Bayou’ (both with back-up vocals from Maria Muldaur). Perhaps the stand-out tracks are ‘The Legend Of Jolie Blonde’, Bobby’s tribute to Harry Choates, who he met when he was just a small boy (with killer fiddle playing from Rufus Thibideaux), and a new version of the wonderful ‘See You Later Alligator’ — the track Bobby wrote when he was 14 years old. Featuring Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry on back-up vocals, and a fierce backing of saxes and trumpets, this version is done the way that Bobby says “I’ve always wanted it done”.

The second CD includes Nashville and Louisiana recordings from the ’80s and ’90s, including ‘Walking To New Orleans’ with a guest appearance by Antoine himself! Again, the same mix of unforgettable melodies (‘Angel Eyes’, ‘Love In The Worst Degree’, ‘I Remember When’), with backings ranging from jazzy piano (‘But I Do’) to the saxes and trumpet of ‘Not Ready Yet’ (not so different from the sound Bobby achieved on the Chess recordings made at Cosimo’s studio in the mid-’50s). And, again, all with that unique voice and those melodies that stay with you all day.

Bobby Charles has written some of the great songs of the past half-century (sometimes under his real name Robert Charles Guidry) and produced some marvellous recordings — but 33 refuses to leave his home in southern Louisiana to perform. If you have bought his recent CDs, you can be assured that this one is just as good. If you only know him through other people’s versions of his songs (Ray Charles, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, Bill Haley, Etta James, etc.), you cannot go wrong with this beautifully-produced collection.

Colin Davies

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