Mickey Newbury - It Might As Well Be The Moon

It Might As Well Be The Moon

Mickey Newbury

Mountain Retreat
P. O. Box 888
Escanaba, MI 49829

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Moshe Benarroch
(moben@barak-online.net)

So, is Mickey Newbury famous or not? His songs have been sung and become hits by the likes of Ray Charles, B.B. King, Bobby Blue Bland, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Kenny Rogers, Willie Nelson and Joan Baez, and even one of them appeared in the soundtrack of The Big Lebowsky. I suppose there is no worrying about the size of his royalty check, but it seems that, as a performer since the late 60's, he is an obscure figure in American music.

I "discovered" Newbury in the early nineties when I bought a double CD titled A Celebration Of Texas. There was only one of his songs there, Willow Tree, that also appears in this double CD. I played this song so many times I bought another copy of it. At that time I tried to buy a Newbury CD, just to find that there was only one out-of-print "Best Of" collection that appeared on the Curb label in 1988. So, I started buying used LP's, the last LP's I actually looked for until 1995. I remember buying them in London for $15 and even more, sometimes even buying two copies so that one will play well. Remember? That was vinyl. In 1994, Nights When I Am Sane appeared in the Winter Harvest label. Then Mickey Newbury himself, with some help from his friends started his label Mountain Retreat and they have released all of his output, as well as some unreleased live material. The cream of the crop is The Mickey Newbury Collection, an eight-CD boxed set, which includes all his LP's from the 60's and 70's---all of them masterpieces.

I wondered why one of my favorites In A New Age wasn't included in the boxed set. I just thought there might be some kind of copyright problem. But that was not the reason. With the release of It Might As Well Be The Moon, we now have the In A New Age CD with a 70-minute live performance from the same period. But, is this a reissue? As anything else with Newbury, the answer is not simple. The vocals and violin has been left intact, but more instrumentation has been added. I got used to the old sound, and now this seems like a different record altogether for me. These songs were rerecorded for this project in 1988, probably because most of his Elektra LP's were out-of-print back then. But Newbury has rerecorded his songs many times, some songs appear in five or more of his CD's. When you see this, you might ask yourself if you need another version of the same song. The answer is yes. Newbury actually revisits his classics periodically, and he gives them a completely different angle when he rerecords them.

Newbury has been often described as a somber songwriter, often writing about the depressing side of life. Personally, listening to him just fills me with joy and hope. There is something deeply religious in his songwriting and singing, remindful of a prayer. Even when he is speaking of a child whose father is going to die, there is a big compassion in Newbury's voice and words. His singing reminds me of Frank Sinatra, if Frank was born in Nashville or Texas. This is folk, yes, but it is jazz, blues, and pop, as well. What you hear is mostly Newbury's strong and imposing voice in front of very delicate acoustic instrumentation and, almost always, the sound of rain between songs. This is Newbury's trademark.

Wish I was a willow tree
leaning on a lazy breeze
Moving like a midnight train through crazy Georgia
Wish I was a grain of sand
laying in my baby's hand
Falling like a diamond chain into the ocean

This quotation is from Willow Tree" (also titled Wish I Was and Wish I Was A Willow Tree in other recordings). It shows how deep Newbury's philosophy and art of living can go.

This is a double CD. The first disc is a reissue of sorts of Newbury's 1988 release In A New Age, with added players and percussion. The result sounds more theatrical than on the original, more intimate-sounding, LP. All the songs on this CD appear in previous LP's from the sixties and seventies, but here they are different versions of the same songs. I find it very hard to talk of better versions, since Newbury has made a habit of revisiting his own songs every 5 years and singing them from a different angle.

The second CD is his fifth live CD. The live approach also brings different versions of the same songs, and some appear in the first disc, as well as on the second disc. I think that for the newcomer It Might As Well Be The Moon is a good introduction to his music. It's impossible to talk about better CD's than others in Newbury's career. He has created a body of work in the last four decades incomparable to any other singer-songwriter. If you like this collection, the natural step, if you can afford it, would be to buy the 8-CD boxed set.

If you've never heard of Mickey Newbury, and there are probably a few readers who have not yet, and you are interested in singer-songwriters, folk, jazz singing, great singing or great songwriting, you can't afford to skip this great artist. Believe me, you will ask yourself how did you live until now without knowing about Mickey Newbury?

Song List:

Disc 1:
  • All My Trials
  • Cortelia Clark
  • Willow Tree
  • The Sailor
  • Frisco Depot
  • Poison Red Berries
  • Lovers
  • San Francisco Mabel Joy
  • An American Trilogy
Disc 2
  • Willow Tree
  • After All These Years
  • Goin' To Alabama
  • Apples Dipped In Candy
  • The Piper
  • Lie To My Darlin'
  • The Night You Wrote That Song
  • Jubilee's Revival
  • She Even Woke Me up To say Goodbye
  • That's The Way It Goes
  • Sweet Memories
  • Ain't No Blues Today
  • That was The Way It Was Then
  • How I Love Them Old Songs
  • Danny Boy
  • American Trilogy

Edited by: David Schultz

Copyright 2000, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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