Charlie Feathers

Get with It: The Essential Recordings (1954-1969)

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John Fahey and Richard K. Spottswood's Revenant label has done some pretty audacious things since it began issuing recordings. The label released everything from the earliest Dock Boggs material to primal material from the Stanley Brothers, a collection of (very) raw American pre-World War II gospel music, and even Cecil Taylor's Nefertiti, the Beautiful One Has Come. But nothing could have prepared the public for this deluxe double-CD issue of the work of rockabilly legend and music biz phantom Charlie Feathers. Feathers was an enigma, a man who claimed to have shown Jerry Lee Lewis how to play his "pumping" style of piano and arranged Elvis' Sun material. He co-wrote Elvis' first number one hit, "I Forgot to Remember to Forget," and spouted off about why music sucks and the secrets of the Sun sound ad nauseum for close to four decades. But in this collection, none of that matters -- it does not prove or disprove his claims, but certainly testifies that it is possible that what he boasted was true, because the truth is in the grooves. The package is deluxe as hell: long essays by Peter Guralnick, Jim Dickinson, and Colin Escott accompany two CDs broken down into issued and unissued material. The released material features all the masters of his singles for Sun, Meteor, King, Kay, Walmay, and Holiday Inn. There are a couple of missing sides, such as the Memphis label single "Wild, Wild Party," covered by Link Wray in the 1980s, and a Philwood single of Feathers' cover of "Tear It Up." There is something in the grain of Feathers' voice on his issued singles that is off-kilter or off the rails. It stutters, sputters, spits, and stings, while slipping and blurring and rolling through lyrics as if they are dialogue from outer space being dictated to him on the spot. From "I've Been Deceived"; "Defrost Your Heart," with its ghostly, voodoo lyrics; to the King "Can't Hardly Stand It," with its sidewinder guitar; to Meteor's "Get With It" and RCA's "When You Decide," the effect is the same. This is a cat who knows just what he's about, even if nobody else does. And he doesn't try too hard to get it across, he just lets it all happen, like a flood on a suburban street -- the sewer blocks up and all sorts of crazy sh*t pours out into the gutter. Disc two is where the revelation and science-fiction show really happens, though. All of it is unissued demos. Feathers accompanies himself on a guitar, or someone else helps him out and remains uncredited; his son plays lead. Feathers changes words mid-sentence, figures out a new bridge as the tape is rolling and the song is unfolding from the confines of his spooked-out mind -- and then there are the recordings Feathers did in Mississippi with Junior Kimbrough. Feathers celebrated Kimbrough as the greatest musician alive long before the late Bob Palmer ever heard of him. These 21 tracks (including three takes of "Bottle to the Baby") offer a view of an artist whose time never came, whose dreams simply will not give way to reality, and whose amazing merit as a creative force will not let him rest. It's too much and not nearly enough; it's full of questions with only ciphers for answers. For any fan of primitive, pure American roots music, Get With It is indispensable.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 2:43
2 2:15
3 2:20
4 2:32
5 3:05
6 1:58
7 1:54
8 2:22
9 2:48
10 2:20
11 2:15
12 2:19
13 2:09
14 2:26
15 2:16
16 2:40
17 2:19
18 3:18
19 2:42
20 2:01
21 2:37

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 2:07
2 2:51
3 2:57
4 2:47
5 2:12
6 2:41
7 1:54
8 2:46
9 1:58
10 3:03
11 1:36
13 2:44
14 2:04
15 6:19
16 8:15
17 2:57
18 3:17
19 2:35
20 2:45
21 2:39
blue highlight denotes track pick