I Love: Tom T. Hall’s Songs of Fox Hollow
Red Beet Records
5 stars (out of 5)
By Donald Teplyske
The creative mind is a mystery.
Of all the Tom T. Hall projects that could have been undertaken by Eric Brace, Peter Cooper, and their raggle-taggle band of Nashville buddies, recreating the very successful (#3 on the country charts with a #1 song, “I Care”) Songs of Fox Hollow album would most likely have never occurred to most of us.
Good on them, then.
Hall, undoubtedly one of the most successful country performers and writers of the 1970s, has previously received the tribute treatment.
More than a decade ago alt-country and roots performers including Kelly Willis, Calexico, Iris Dement, and Whiskeytown were featured on Real: The Tom T. Hall Project. That album remains a personal benchmark all other tribute albums are measured against.
A few years after that, bluegrass singer Charlie Sizemore released The Story Is…The Songs of Tom T. Hall. In ways entirely different from the Real project, Sizemore’s recording conveyed the magic that great Tom T. Hall songs contain.
Creating music for children is a challenge few can meet. One must have the knack of appealing to their senses of rhythm, rhyme, justice, and humour while ensuring that the songs stand-up to repeated listening. A difficult task compounded by the desirability of making the music equally attractive to the parents who make the purchases.
Few children’s albums recorded in the country music field have been as successful as Songs of Fox Hollow. “I Love” had been recorded and released a year earlier, traveling quickly up the charts to #1 (and #12 on Billboard’s Hot 100). “I Care” and the album followed and were among the final, highest charting successes Hall would experience.
Listening to the album almost forty years after its release, one is struck by its lack of condescension; the songs, their sentiments (and sentimentality), and their arrangements make little allowance for the youth of its intended audience. The overarching themes—acceptance, caring, ecology, and silliness—are universal and as relevant today as they were when Peter Cooper first heard them as a child.
I Love: Tom T. Hall’s Songs of Fox Hollow was recorded last summer at Tom T. and Miss Dixie’s Fox Hollow. Conceived by Cooper and Brace, the call went out and their friends gathered for what sounds like was a great few days in the country.
As was the original album, the tribute project is ideal. Starting with a base of songs that are damn near faultless in tone and content—“Sneaky Snake,” “Oh Lonesome George the Basset,” and “The Barn Dance” amongst them—the foundation couldn’t be more solid. Imagine having Duane Eddy along to lay down signature licks while Buddy Miller and Patty Griffin sing “Sneaky Snake” and the bar appears fairly high.
East Nashville’s finest are involved. Elizabeth Cook and Tim Carroll lay out a lovely rendition of “I Wish I Had a Million Friends” while Jon Byrd reveals the logic of “How to Talk to a Little Baby Goat.”
The album’s strongest track may be Jim Lauderdale’s interpretation of “I Like to Feel Pretty Inside.” His matter-of-fact recitation of Hall’s observations surrounding self-acceptance, kindness, and truth toward others captures the album’s intent in less than three minutes.
Peter Cooper’s gentle rendition of “Everybody Loves to Hear a Bird Sing” deserves to be heard by the masses and Eric Brace and & Last Train Home’s “The Mysterious Fox of Fox Hollow” balances the innocent mysteries and dark menace of nature.
Every track and performance offers something of value. Gary Bennett’s “The Barn Dance” and Mark & Mike’s “The Song of the One-Legged Chicken” embrace the frivolity of word play while Bobby Bare’s “I Care” and Patty Griffin’s “I Love” are sincere in their sentimentality.
A new Miss Dixie and Tom T. Hall song is amended to the original album’s track listing. “I Made a Friend of a Flower Today” features Tom T. joining Fayssoux Starling McLean. Starling McLean’s voice is pure and true and serves as a reminder of how note-perfect her album of a few years ago (Early) was.
The house band for this recording include Nashville’s finest: Lloyd Green takes care of the pedal steel guitar while Jen Gunderman (keys), Mike Bub (bass), and Mark Horn (drums) are also consistent in their presence.
As are all Red Beet projects, this one is beautifully packaged. Julie Sola’s woodcuts are beautifully rendered and embrace the natural spirit of the recording.
Conceived in respect and gratitude, I Love: Tom T. Hall’s Songs of Fox Hollow is another recording in which the team of Peter Cooper and Eric Brace can take great pride; someday they are bound to fail, but they haven’t so far.