One of the most beautiful, but tragically haunting, songs ever written is John Prine’s — Angel From Montgomery — because it is steeped with a bitter love-gone-lost yearning that is universal, irrevocable, and palpable.  The song is simple but harshly complex.  You can play the song with four guitar chords — G, C, D and F — but there’s nothing easy about the joyous melody that leaps from those four chords.

Here’s the humble, but profound, chorus:

Make me an angel that flies from Montgomery.
Make me a poster of an old rodeo.
Just give me one thing that I can hold on to.
To believe in this living is just a hard way to go.

Let’s take a look at Bonnie Raitt’s live performance of Angel From Montgomery in December 1974.  She’s playing what looks like a Gibson ES-175 archtop or a beautifully carved Gibson L5 and her voice and playing are pristine and unforgettable:

Here is Susan Tedeschi — a talented performer, but a perennial Bonnie Raitt wannabe — who also sings Angel From Montgomery live in performance from 2009.  She gives a little more energy to the song, but does she add any more insight or passion to the moment than Bonnie before her?

Now I’m going to show you a live John Prine performance — from the 1990’s — of the song he wrote.  Note his simple acoustic guitar accompaniment and raspy singing voice.

That Prine performance of his own song is my favorite.  It is heartfelt and sparse and arresting.  I never like it when singers say they’re going to sing a song recorded by the artist who made the song popular.  Few singers give credit to the actual author of the song.  I am happy to say John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery” is, without question or pause, the definitive version of the song and I love it that John, a man, sings the song as a woman.  Completely fantastic!

The historic, colloquial, genesis of the title of the song, “Angel from Montgomery” has to do with being pardoned from a death sentence by the governor of Alabama.  You hope from Death Row that the governor will be your Angel and send a pardon your way from his home in Montgomery.  So the old woman in the John Prine song is singing about becoming a pardon from the humdrum humility of her loveless life.

7 Comments

  1. I’m such a big Bonnie fan I can’t vote for anyone but her. I don’t know anything about John Prine, but I sure am glad I know more about him now.

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  2. David Boles, I beg to differ. I’ve seen all 3 do Angel and have heard a version with Bonnie and John together. Susan is a very unique and multi-talented artist in her own right. She is *NOT* a Bonnie Raitt wannabe. Never was, never will be. Each brings their own unique style to the music. You don’t know Susan. I’ve watched her grow over the years. Please listen before you write.

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    1. Comfort music, like comfort food — is there such a thing? I think it’s the best way to describe the music of Bonnie Raitt and Susan Tedeschi of the Tedeschi Trucks Band. Each released a highly acclaimed new album last spring. Ms. Raitt’s “Slipstream” and Tedeschi Trucks Band’s “Everybody’s Talkin’ ” are the kind of albums that work anywhere, from dinner party to tailgating to backyard barbecue. Various critics have applied similar adjectives to both Ms. Raitt and the Tedeschi Trucks Band: loose, rootsy, soulful, smoldering groove, with tinges of funk, gospel and down-home jamming.

      In my opinion, one of the more insidious musical acts lately is Susan Tedeschi, who packages her cheesy, over-cliched, chord-progression-recycling, lily-white pap as “the blues.” I cringe every time I hear a Susan Tedeschi song on the radio (which, unfortunately, is a lot.) I just think her voice is grating and there is nothing innovative or interesting about her music at all.

      Being the son of a semi-professional blues and jazz pianist, I listened to a lot of these styles growing up, and played them a lot when I was younger, and developed a lot of appreciation for the blues – but even the blues can get old, as the chord structures and lyrical formulae are recycled over and over again. How to make it unique and enjoyable, then? It takes a soulful voice, which Susan Tedeschi, in my opinion, just doesn’t have. It’d be one thing if her songs were more unique, but most of them that I’ve heard sound either like the same old blues numbers with nothing unique added, or rip-offs of Bonnie Raitt songs.

      Dammit, I just hate Susan Tedeschi! I can’t see what all the enthusiasm is about!

      http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=358059

      Susan Tedeschi’s voice has been described as a blend of Bonnie Raitt and Janis Joplin, which she maintains is not surprising given that both have been her influences.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susan_Tedeschi

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