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Cover Tune : Bella White : Dublin Blues (Guy Clark)


Photo credit: Morgan Mason


For young artists, recording a cover song can be fraught with peril. Not necessarily "Cut the yellow wire!" peril, but rather that sort of "Hope this doesn't ruin my career" peril that leaves one so unnerved you may need a few months of DBT to decide if you want the chicken or pasta entree at your sister's wedding reception.


And on some level, it's understandable. Stick too closely to the original, and people will ask why you even bothered. Stray too far, and you're insolent. Even worse, what if the original artist hears your version and languidly responds with the full-T.S. Eliot treatment?


That is not what I meant at all;

That is not it, at all.


Luckily, my reverence for songs and artists many consider sacred cows receded almost as quickly as my hairline, and these days I believe if an artist of any age truly feels (and I mean really feels) a song, they should feel free to (in the parlance of a sport well above my socioeconomic level), grip it and rip it.


And that's why, today, you're reading about Bella White.


See, this young lady from the north country (Calgary to be exact) released her debut, the Patrick M’Gonigle-produced Just Like Leaving, independently last year, only to have it picked up by Rounder, a label that's basically the grande dame of roots music. And to say it turned more than few heads would be an understatement. But with touring off the table, the 20 year-old has instead been woodshedding in her adoptive hometown of Nashville, and has recently been treating fans to a weekly cover tune from the comfort of her boudoir.


Which brings us to here...

Full disclosure: I love Guy Clark. I even have some of his lyrics tattooed on my ample carcass. But let's face it: He's not a household name, despite the fact that pert near everyone has heard someone try their hand at "Desperados Waiting For A Train." So right off the bat, we know Miss White has a refined palate, perhaps due in part to her father, a longtime bluegrass gigger from Virginia.


Here's another thing you should know about Guy Clark. He acted as mentor to another pretty decent singer/songwriter named Steve Earle, who repaid the favor with an entire album of Guy's tunes, called simply Guy, in 2019 (on which he also covered "Dublin Blues"), as well as with the song "Goodbye Michelangelo" off the previous year's So You Wannabe An Outlaw.


So interestingly, this provides us with three versions of "Dublin Blues," with three distinct approaches. Clark's original is forthright, almost stoic; a man simply telling his story between swallows of something cheap and strong. Earle's version, go figure, is defiant; thumbing his nose at a woman he would gladly welcome back at the drop of hat. The there's White's, which of the three, surprisingly sounds the most world-weary. Every time I listen to it, I expect this will be the time she stops halfway through the final verse, puts down her guitar, and walks slowly out the room. One can almost hear the bell being rung for last call.


You don't gotta go home, but you can't stay here.


Now, I'm not going to post Clark's original or Earle's version, because I'm not about to enable your sloth. Find it yourself, and if you're lucky you'll discover the wonders of Old No. 1 (1975) and Guitar Town (1986) during your journey. What I will do, because my heart's in the right place, is give you a little more Bella, namely her spin on Buck Meek's "Candle."

Certainly a lot to like there. Sadly, there's no word on when we might expect a Just Like Leaving follow-up, but if anyone's up for Mad Dog Margaritas while we wait, drop me a line.

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