I have to be honest, when my biggest hero announced he was releasing a country album of cover songs from The Everly Brothers with Norah Jones on November 25th, my first thought was: "Billie Joe, what the hell?!" I was afraid to listen to it, afraid it would be a disaster, worried I'd have to write my first negative review, or not write a review at all, and I was dreading it. Seriously dreading it. Most of all, I was dreading how it would be received by the public at large, so close on the tail of Green Day's album trilogy and all the drama that ensued. As it turns out, my fears were completely unfounded. Foreverly is a special little gem of an album that takes us back to bygone days when life was simple, at least in our memories, and music came straight from the heart with just a few instruments to carry it along. Taking me back to my roots, never before in my life have I been so happy to be wrong.
Country music with heart, Foreverly is swimming in the creek on a hot and humid summer day, or hanging out on a wooden pier with your best friend and a fishing pole, or playing tag in an overgrown meadow in the bright sunshine and feeling like the whole world is wide-open, safe and happy. It's Momma cooking fried pork chops and turnip greens with the smell of fresh-baked cornbread in the kitchen while you and your sister do homework and talk about your day. Growing up in the South, Foreverly was like going home.
Staying true to the intention of The Everly Brothers and pulling it off to perfection, there are no big, bolstering vocals or angry, defiant tones from Billie Joe's signature style, which was different, but in the best possible way, proving a surprising range and possibly a new path of self-expression to break up the monotony of rock opera mega-hits. And Norah Jones, bless her precious heart, sounds like she was born a country singer, inspiring flashbacks of the soft, emotional, pure country melodies of Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline. The biggest take-away from this album are the vocals between Billie Joe & Norah that blend so beautifully.
The album opens with "Roving Gambler," a banjo and harmonica-filled dance song with a traditional country beat that easily meshes with the sawdust floor, foot-stomping dance at the VFW on a small-town Friday night. It's just a fun song that sets the stage for the second song "Long Time Gone," a sing-a-long that empowers women everywhere to kick that cheatin' man to the curb.
"Lightening Express" sounds like a lullaby. Not totally country, it has the tone and style of a Christmas song, except depressing as hell. It's about a boy who's stowed-away on a train to get home to his dying mother. Reminding me of "The Christmas Shoes" by Newsong, it choked me up and brought tears to my eyes, which was exactly the point.
"Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine" is an upbeat song of pure backwoods bluegrass from the state fair that sounds like a small-town 4th of July picnic laden with stars and stripes and apple pie, or maybe a rodeo with barrel racing cowgirls. It made me want to put on a cowboy hat and roper boots and jump on a horse, if I wasn't, ya know, deathly afraid of horses.
"Down In The Willow Garden" is another slow-rider that sounds like a love song, but is really a morbid little ditty about killing a girl and throwing her body in the river, lest we forget The Everly Brothers were a gruesome bunch. Changing tactics before we all drown our sorrows in a bottle of Jack Daniels, "Who's Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Feet?" is a sweet song to a new baby, reminding us all that life goes on, and it can be pretty special in the simplest of ways.
"Oh So Many Years" is a wonderful, sweet, old-fashioned love song that makes the heart sing. With a nice guitar riff, piano accompaniment and awesome vocals, it is, in my opinion, the best song on the album. "Barbara Allen" features Armstrong going solo, with Jones singing backup vocals. Not quite as country as the others, except in the chorus, Armstrong pulls off a solid song with nice strings and excellent vocals, as usual. This one sounds right at home in a pub with beer glasses raised in a toast to a beloved woman.
"Rockin Alone (In An Old Rockin' Chair) tells the sad tale of a neglected elderly woman sitting alone in a rocking chair with no one around to care about her. The beautiful, heart-wrenching lyrics and vocals have an emotional pull that sucks you right into the story and forces you to pay attention. In direct contrast, and I'm sure this wasn't the intended reaction, so let me apologize in advance, the song "I'm Here To Get My Baby Out of Jail" made me laugh. With a deep-South blues undertone, this country song is about a long-suffering, dying Momma trying to do right by her ungrateful son who's always in trouble before she leaves this world for good.
The song "Kentucky" is all about the vocals for Norah Jones, who's longing for her beloved home state of Kentucky. With easy, simple lyrics, this song puts the listener in a bluegrass state of mind. "Put My Little Shoes Away" makes you close your eyes, lay your head back and simply listen. In the style of a gospel song you'd hear in church, it's calling the boy home to heaven on the golden wings of angels.
With the juxtaposition of simple and pure versus complicated and dramatic lyrics, The Everly Brothers were an iconic musical group whose music successfully zeroed in on the heart of the matter, in both joy and sadness. To hear them honored in this unexpected way was a gift Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones presented with tremendous grace and beauty. Hopefully, they'll gift us with more surprises like this in the future.
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