Jesse Winchester: Thanks To You
Emmylou Harris: Thanks To You
Chris Smither: Thanks To You
I encountered this song as a 1997 cover in the hands of ragged folk-blues guitarist Chris Smither, who plays the song out as a rapid-fire wail of almost proud self-pity and heaven-sent salvation, a ray of light sparking down from heaven to save the narrative sinner.
But curiosity brought me in search of the source, and as fans of the prolific and well-covered songwriter Jesse Winchester might have predicted, the 1988 original is nothing like the cover.
Oh, sure, it's still blues. But this tune comes from the other end of the genre, where the blues - and its image of heaven as an eventual comfort for even the worst of sinners - are something smooth and sultry, framed in dustbowl Americana production, and veritably dripping in gospel harmonies and slow, southern slide guitar. From the subtle bounce of the intro synth to the final fade-out, this is an image of heaven as seen through a boozehound's haze, a slow credit-roll from a frozen eternity in a terminal flophouse before a life spent in the dismal dark fades eternally into the light.
Meanwhile, of course, Emmylou Harris splits the difference, bringing in a sultry yet ever-so-slightly-uptempo country gospel barroom americana blues ballad that still retains the keys, and those glorious gospel harmonies. The 1993 date on Emmylou's cover, and the slightly more upbeat pace, suggests that Smither must have heard both before going his own inimitable way.
Afterthought: we've given thanks to family and friends a lot this week, and deservedly so. We're a lucky bunch here on Star Maker, in no small part because we have this community to carry our voices and conversations; we owe a debt of thanks to each other, and to you, the reader, as much as we do our immediate loved ones.
But though my sense of heaven is a bit personal and vague these days, I was a sinner like so many of us, for much of my life. And like so many of us, I suspect, I owe thanks to the universe, the goddess, God, the everything - whatever you call it - for always offering that sense of comfort, and always being there for me, waiting patiently until I, too, saw the light. Even if it took music, love, friends, family, and so many other vehicles for me to find it when I needed it so much.
Thanks, universe. Thanks, everyone. To you, and to yours.