Various Artists: God Don't Ever Change, The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson

Now you can add nine more notable musicians to the list of those who have covered Blind Willie Johnson.

Various Artists

God Don’t Ever Change: The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson

Label: Alligator
US Release Date: 2016-02-26

Gospel blues singer Blind Willie Johnson only recorded 30 songs during his lifetime, but each one was so powerful that you’ve probably heard most of them covered by someone else and took them as originals. Religious singers such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Ashely Cleveland, folkies such as Gillian Welch and Bob Dylan, rockers such as Led Zeppelin and Nick Cave, country stars such as Willie Nelson and the Levon Helm Band, blues stylists such as Eric Clapton and Rory Block, and a host of idiosyncratic artists such as the Incredible String Band, Mary Margaret O’Hara, Captain Beefheart, Andrew Bird, and John Fahey have all taken on Johnson’s repertoire.

Now you can add nine more musicians to the list. God Don’t Ever Change, The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson includes a diverse array of artists whose work may be rooted in the blues but whose range defies easy categorization, take Johnson on. The tribute CD includes two songs each by Tom Waits and Lucinda Williams, as well as contributions by notables like Sinead O’Connor, the Blind Boys of Alabama (with Jason Isbell), Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, Rickie Lee Jones, Maria McKee, Luther Dickenson, and the Cowboy Junkies.

Waits offers the most intense versions of Johnson’s music. His versions of “The Soul of a Man” and “John the Revelator” sound like they were recorded at a cemetery parking lot at midnight under a full moon. Waits’ gravelly vocals eerily evokes Johnson’s growling voice. There’s something strange happening, and it’s god not the devil whose causing the mischief.

Williams presents a sweeter take on “It’s Nobody’s Fault But Mine” and “God Don’t Ever Change”. She proclaims intimate knowledge of hard times, but proclaims the majesty of the lord nonetheless. Williams finds the sweet spot between the blues and the gospel that Johnson so amazingly brought to his music.

The other contributions showcase the everlasting value of Johnson’s material. The harmonies of the Blind Boys of Alabama get to the heart of “Motherless Children” while Isbell’s slide guitar plays in counterpart to their singing. The sadness of the lyrics is redeemed by the heavenly voices and the mystery of it all conveyed by the bottleneck making the strings ring like a church bell on a Sunday morning. O’Connor’s hopeful take on “Trouble Will Soon Be Over” reveals the solace one can find in true belief. One’s circumstances may be in difficult. Johnson himself died in poverty and neglect. But none of that matters in the afterlife. McKee similarly finds the joy in “Let Your Light Shine on Me”. She suggests the darkness is only a temporary in the context of eternity.

Speaking of darkness, Jones ends the record with a somber rendition of Johnson’s bleakest composition, “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground". Johnson’s version of this was shot into the blackness of space in 1977 as one of the 27 songs included on the Voyager Golden Record to let aliens know about life on the planet Earth. Jones appropriately creaks and moans her way through the tune. You don’t have to be an alien to know the way the solar winds blow on her effort.





Rock 'n' Roll with Chinese Characteristics: Nirvana Behind the Great Wall

Like pretty much everywhere else in the pop music universe, China's developing rock scene changed after Nirvana. It's just that China's rockers didn't get the memo in 1991, nor would've known what to do with it, then.


Creative Disruption in 'Portrait of a Lady on Fire'

Portrait of a Lady on Fire yearns to burn tyrannical gendered tradition to ash and remake it into something collaborative and egalitarian.


Fave Five: The Naked and Famous

Following two members leaving the group in 2018, synthpop mavens the Naked and Famous are down to a duo for the first time ever and discuss the records they turned to help make their aptly-named fourth record, Recover.

Evan Sawdey

Fleetwood Dissects the European Mindset in His Moody, Disturbing Thriller, 'A Young Fair God'

Hugh Fleetwood's difficult though absorbing A Young Fair God offers readers a look into the age-old world views that have established and perpetuated cultural rank and the social attitudes that continue to divide us wherever we may reside in the world.


Art Feynman Creates Refreshing Worldbeat Pop on 'Half Price at 3:30'

On Half Price at 3:30, Art Feynman again proves himself adept at building colorful worlds from unexpected and well-placed aural flourishes.


The Beths Are Sharp As Ever on 'Jump Rope Gazers'

New Zealand power-poppers the Beths return with a sophomore album that makes even the most senior indie-rock acts feel rudimentary by comparison.


The Jayhawks Offer Us Some 'XOXO'

The Jayhawks offer 12-plus songs on XOXO to help listeners who may be alone and scared by reminding us that we are all alone together.


Steve McDonald Remembers the Earliest Days of Redd Kross

Steve McDonald talks about the year that produced the first Redd Kross EP, an early eighth-grade graduation show with a then-unknown Black Flag, and a punk scene that welcomed and defined him.


Nazis, Nostalgia, and Critique in Taika Waititi's 'Jojo Rabbit'

Arriving amidst the exhaustion of the past (21st century cultural stagnation), Waititi locates a new potential object for the nostalgic gaze with Jojo Rabbit: unpleasant and traumatic events themselves.


Why I Did Not Watch 'Hamilton' on Disney+

Just as Disney's Frozen appeared to deliver a message of 21st century girl power, Hamilton hypnotizes audiences with its rhyming hymn to American exceptionalism.


LA Popsters Paper Jackets Deliver a Message We Should Embrace (premiere + interview)

Two days before releasing their second album, LA-based pop-rock sextet Paper Jackets present a seemingly prescient music video that finds a way to ease your pain during these hard times.


'Dancing After TEN' Graphic Memoir Will Move You

Art dances with loss in the moving double-memoir by comics artists Vivian Chong and Georgia Webber, Dancing After TEN.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.