Jesse Jarnow

“goodnight irene” – little richard

“Goodnight Irene” – Little Richard (download) (buy) (1951ish)

(file expires June 28th)

There is nothing ethereal about Little Richard’s Ray Charles-like take of “Goodnight Irene” — at least, not like the Leadbelly origination, or even the white bread version Pete Seeger & the Weavers rode to #1 in the summer of 1950. But it is remarkable nonetheless, mostly because of a drummer I can’t identify. In his hands, it doesn’t matter that the song is a murder ballad. The melody is there alright, but it is almost as if it only exists to give an arc to the utterly liquid groove. It sounds like there’s a conga player, too, but the meat of it is in the snare shuffle beneath Richard’s vocal, which dives in and out of the rhythm guitar. Like Glenn Kotche’s parts in Wilco’s “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart,” the drummer remains in freefall, as if he is always about to start the song’s real drum part. It never arrives, and the singer never quite says goodnight proper.

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