John McEuen To Release Spoken Word Album
Photo by Alan Messer

EXCLUSIVE PREMIERE: John McEuen’s “Mountain Whippoorwill”

Today, Grammy winner and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band founding member John McEuen is releasing his new album, The Newsman: A Man Of Record, on Compass Records. In a unique move for McEuen, the album is 11 spoken word tracks. Nashville.com is proud to have the exclusive premiere for “The Mountain Whippoorwill” from the project. (listen above) The piece paints amazing imagery of a fiddling contest at an old county fair.

“I did in an old church for an audience of one, in one take; Jay Unger being the willing listener. It transports me to a different space and time, as I hope it does for the listener. It did for him. Brooke Shields told me she listened to my first version of this every night during her last year in college.” said McEuen of the piece.

Every piece on the album is a mini movie with his unique style of music behind each one. From the opening title track, which is a true story about a man who sold newspapers and was a tremendous influence on the young musician in Los Angeles, to the final cut, “Julie’s Theme,” inspired by Jules Verne telling a friend, in a French cemetery, about his recently deceased young wife, McEuen presents an album filled with stories that will inspire and perhaps bring a tear to your eye.

McEuen believes these spoken word offerings can fit on radio. “It is my suggestion that programmers add one of these cuts in between other music they are playing, finding styles that fit each – as they are each different. Listening to The Newsman from top to bottom is a lot to ask of anyone! I look forward to seeing what people program with various cuts.”

McEuen credits work he has done on film scores as a major influence on this album. He especially credits Tommy Lee Jones, who along with Sissy Spacek starred in “Good Ole Boys,” for which he did the soundtrack.

The different tracks on the album rage from “Killed at the Ford,” a Civil War-era poem that tells of the death of a young soldier as he and friends go to meet a picket-guard by a ford. Although no trouble is expected, a shot is fired from the woods and the young man is dead. Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow doesn’t end the poem there, but relates how it affects the young man’s family at home.

“The Cremation of Sam McGee,” one of the most famous poems written by Robert Service, was published in 1907. It is told from the perspective of the man who cremates the prospector who froze to death in the Yukon while searching for gold.

The Stephen Vincent Benét poem “The Mountain Whippoorwill” was published in 1925. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band released it on their album “Stars & Striped Forever” in 1974.

“Fly Trouble” is a Hank Williams Sr. classic from 1949, and one of “talking blues” numbers that McEuen has recited many times over the past years.

“Old Rivers” was written by Cliff Crofford and released by Walter Brennan in 1963, while Thomas Monroe wrote “Nui Ba Den” while he was in Vietnam in 1968. More recent writings are “Pineapple John” by John Carter Cash, Hans Olson’s “I’ll Be Glad When I Run Out Of Gas” and Thaddeus Bryant’s “Red Clay.”

“I have been around the world playing music and collecting stories for… a long time,” McEuen acknowledges. “As a teenager, well before Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, I loved Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man. Before I started playing I must have recited “Ya Got Trouble” 2,000 times! Later, when performing became part of the life I picked, every now and then I would do one of these ‘stories’ (often a Hank Williams talking blues) on stage, always happy about how well they went over.

“At this point of my career, film score work (14 cool scores) gave me the experience of putting background music with words and picture, without getting ‘in the way’ with music,” McEuen says. “I learned from Tommy Lee Jones, while I was doing a score for him, that when someone says ‘Hey, that’s a great score going on there,’ the music person has failed to support the picture. You can’t let the music dominate, it has to support what’s happening.’ So it sometimes is with spoken word. This album is a soundtrack for films not yet made.”

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About Jerry Holthouse

Music editor for Nashville.com. Jerry Holthouse is a content writer, songwriter and a graphic designer. He owns and runs Holthouse Creative, a full service creative agency. He is an avid outdoorsman and a lover of everything music. You can contact him at JerryHolthouse@Nashville.com

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