[11 September 2011]
Back in 1974, country star Tom T. Hall put out a children’s album, Songs of Fox Hollow. The record became a surprise bestseller with two number one singles, “I Love” and “I Care”. As those titles suggest, the tracks were sappy and overly sentimental. That’s alright for kids, but what pleasure adults found in the album remained a mystery. Maybe this was part of the weird zeitgeist of the times. This was the year that began with Patty Hearst being abducted by the Symbionese Liberation Army and ended with Richard Nixon’s resignation from the presidency. Culturally, Happy Days brought the ‘50s back, a 14-year-old fan was trampled to death at a David Cassidy concert, Bob Dylan released the classic Blood on the Tracks, bands such as the Ramones, Blondie, and the Talking Heads formed, while John Denver’s Greatest Hits was the year’s bestselling record. The agitation in the air could be felt on many levels
And so maybe Hall’s simple songs about birds singing, sneaky snakes, sly foxes, one-legged chickens, baby goats, and such provided comfort and solace for those bothered by all the troubles and changes going on. A return to childhood and the wonders of farm life served as a welcome tonic to troubled times. That said, the songs are meant for children and do not really hold up as music for adults. That’s not a criticism, but it is true and this was its original intention.
Now more than 45 years later, a group of Americana artists have re-recorded the songs in tribute to Hall and the original recording. I Love: Tom T. Hall’s Songs of Fox Hollow features contributions by such prominent artists as Bobby Bare, Patty Griffin, Buddy Miller, Elizabeth Cook, and Jim Lauderdale. The backing band is comprised of notable Nashville session players, including Lloyd Green on pedal steel guitar, Jen Gunderman on keyboards, Mike Bub on acoustic bass, and Mark Horn on drums. All involved are talented musicians, and Tom T. Hall himself makes an appearance on a new song, the lovely “I Made a Friend of a Flower Today” that blends right in with the other material in tone and content.
The question is, does the music itself hold up after more than four decades? Sadly, the answer is no. There were lots of terrific albums in 1974, but very few need to be re-recorded by modern artists for new audiences. That does not mean I Love: Tom T. Hall’s Songs of Fox Hollow isn’t worth hearing, but it seems better suited to a small coterie of listeners—isn’t that the Americana audience these days—than mainstream country or country rock audiences.
All of the tracks are well sung and played. Highlights include Elizabeth Cook and Tim Carroll’s charming rendition of “I Wish I Had a Million Friends”, Buddy Miller and Duane Eddy’s tale of animal deviousness, “Sneaky Snake”, and Jim Lauderdale’s tender take on “I Like to Feel Pretty Inside”. Patty Griffin turns “I Love” into a soft paean to country living, and Bobby Bare offers grandfatherly comfort in his cover of “I Care”.
Taken as a whole, the dozen songs have enough sugar to sweeten all the coffee in every Starbucks in America. But when the album that this one was recorded in tribute to was originally released, the nation only had one Starbucks, and that one only sold beans and coffee-making equipment—not drinks. Times have changed. The mass audiences do not want too much sweetness. But some people are sure to lap this up as quickly as a Mocha Frappuccino on a hot July day and enjoy it just as much.