(HUDSON, N.Y.) – While Bobby Charles is hardly a household name, the late songwriter is known by many through songs he wrote including “See You Later Alligator,” “Walking to New Orleans” and “But I Do.” Fans of The Band, with whom Charles collaborated, know him through his performance of “Down South in New Orleans” at the Last Waltz, and Band bassist-singer Rick Danko recorded Charles’s “Small Town Talk” on the former’s solo album, the song that singer-songwriter Shannon McNally made the title track of her new tribute album to Charles, recorded with Dr. John. McNally will perform many of these tunes as well as her own popular favorites at Club Helsinki Hudson on Friday, May 10, 2013, at 9pm.
McNally teamed with New Orleans musical legend Mac “Dr. John” Rebennack to shine a spotlight on Charles’ overlooked body of work. Small Town Talk features guest performances by Derek Trucks, Will Sexton, Luther Dickinson, and Vince Gill. It’s a labor of love that was recorded with Charles’ approval and input before his death in 2010, offering a posthumous tribute to this wonderful artist’s career. McNally and Dr. John consulted with Charles before choosing a group of songs that give us a broad overview of Charles’ work. McNally’s dark, probing vocals explore by turns the passion, deep soul and sparkling wit of this material, while Dr. John frames the structures with sure-handed arrangements augmented by the brilliant Wardell Quezergue and played enthusiastically by Mac’s New Orleans-based band, the Lower 911.
The inspiration for Small Town Talk came from the self titled album Charles recorded in Woodstock with members of the post-Last Waltz group calling itself The Band. McNally’s love for that record led her to tell Charles she wanted to revisit it. “Those songs oriented me musically,” says McNally. “I had so devoured everything that The Band did that finding Bobby was almost a relief. That crowd of musicians had a way of making music that got under my skin in a nagging kind of way”.
McNally and Dr. John unearthed some little known gems that Charles had written over the course of the latter’s career. “We ended up doing ‘But I Do,’ which was a big hit for Frogman Henry in 1961. We cut ‘I Don’t Want To Know,’ which I knew from Lil’ Band o’ Gold, a later Bobby album. Then Bobby suggested a song called ‘String of Hearts’, also from one of his later records, which Vince Gill sang on.” Finally, Dr. John also gave Shannon a cassette of a rare recording of Joe Cocker singing ‘Smile’ [‘I’m So Glad You Came Along’]. “I’m not sure what year Cocker did it, but he still had that Mad Dogs And Englishmen growl and I thought it was hip. For some ridiculous reason it never got released and so no one’s ever heard it.”
The world was introduced to Shannon McNally on her 2002 debut album, Jukebox Sparrows, which cast her as a gritty, bluesy, rootsy and especially soulful singer-songwriter, garnering her comparisons to Shelby Lynne and Lucinda Williams (justifiably) as well as Stevie Nicks and Sheryl Crow (not quite).