Charlie Feathers

Charlie Feathers

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In its short-lived "American Explorer" series, Nonesuch Records issued a quartet of records by artists they considered seminal yet ignored. Of the four, the furthest out-to-lunch choice was '50s Sun rockabilly hero Charlie Feathers. Feathers was always a fringe player. He claims to have arranged all of the Elvis Presley Sun material, and though he recorded for Sam Phillips' label a full eight months before Presley, Feathers scored only marginal hits and became a shadowy figure almost as soon as the '50s ended, surfacing now and again in country and roots rock circles to make an odd record for King, Meteor, Flip, and other small labels. Feathers is the man who first brought the late bluesman Junior Kimbrough to Robert Palmer and did some recording with him (see the Revenant compilation Get With It for these). This disc, recorded in 1990 and produced by Ben Vaughn, features Feathers doing a number of his own truly eccentric and brilliant songs accompanied by former Sun Studios musicians guitarist Roland James, drummer James Van Eaton, and bassist Stan Kesler, and an alternate rhythm section on a few other cuts provided by bassist Terry Bailey and drummer (as well as cardboard-box percussionist) Perry York. Of the Feathers "classics" that appear here are "Pardon Me Mister," "A Man in Love," "A Long Time Ago," and a rewrite of "I Can't Remember to Forget," dedicated to Presley, who first cut the song as "We Can't Seem to Remember to Forget." Other material includes rockabilly nuggets like "Fraulein," "Mean Woman Blues," "Uh Huh Honey," and Stan Kesler's true gem, "You're Right, I'm Left, She's Gone." Instrumentation aside -- all the playing here is expert, authentic, and full of raw immediacy -- it's Feathers' voice that is the spark and spook of these proceedings. He is a man haunted by the past eternally, trying to make it a renewable present, and offering the truth in how forgotten it all is in his delivery (check out "Defrost Your Heart," in which Feathers moans, growls, does the hillbilly wail, and sings a blues that is truly unearthly in that same way that Hank Williams and Roscoe Holcomb's are). Feathers died in the late '90s, but he leaves behind an enduring testament to his particular brilliance as a frighteningly intense singer and canny songwriter. This album is near the pinnacle of that legacy.

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