It’s a tough sell, I know. A man typically associated with famous Christmas classics doesn’t immediately scream ‘check out his back catalog ‘or ‘listen to these records he cut in Nashville’. He didn’t have the darkness of Johnny Cash, the urgency of Woody Guthrie, or the unwavering politics of Pete Seeger, yet hidden among his records are some truly perfect renditions of songs from America’s folk catalog, the country and western songbook, and classic children’s rhymes. Burl Ives was an interpreter, not a songwriter, but it’s his voice that first grabbed me. It is a unique, warm, and instantly recognizable instrument. His voice has a quality one could only dream of obtaining. It’s a kind hearted, deep, mellow thing that rolls along easily.
I rediscovered Ives while picking through my grandfather’s records about six years ago. I was already familiar with (and thoroughly enjoyed) his hits “Lavender Blue” and “A Little Bitty Tear”, but had never thought to dig much deeper. And then I found a 2-record set of songs collected on DECCA Records, which I quietly took it back to my house, playing his haunting version of “Sad Man’s Song (Fare Thee Well, O Honey)” repeatedly in my attic. And thus the Burl Ives bug began.
As I get grayer, older, and add to my responsibilities, I’m beginning a slow retreat to new places – finding appreciation for new genres and old unloved guys like Burl Ives. Recently, I purchased an excellent collection from Omni Records, compiling an odd assortment of Burl Ives songs recorded in Nashville from 1961-1972, called Sweet, Sad, and Salty. It’s a perfect 31 song compilation, covering a very obscure and unique selection of material, that does a fine job exemplifying there was more to the man than jolly Christmas songs and Goober peas. words / j gleason
After the jump: some choice selections from Ives’ prolific and varied catalog:
Burl Ives :: Fare Thee Well, Oh Honey – An English folk ballad. “I got a girl and she’s straight and tall, she moves her body like a cannonball”
Burl Ives :: Lenora, Let Your Hair Hang Low – Classic country interpretation of the folk song “Alberta”. Narrator woefully ignored by a beautiful woman. “I’ll give you a ring and a wedding in the spring…”
Burl Ives :: Girlie Magazine – Pure oddity. A tale about a grandpa who looks at porn magazines while pretending to read. Worth a listen for sure. “The brunet is cute in her birthday suit with the dimples on her knee”
Burl Ives :: Fooba Wooba John – Recently featured in the Wes Anderson movie The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Classic nonsense children’s song that is damn hard not to enjoy and quite infectious on repeat. “Saw a flea kick a tree”
Burl Ives :: A Little Bitty Tear – “I said I’d laugh one you left me”