Bonnie Raitt/John Prine: “Angel from Montgomery”
It’s another Cover Friday after a busy busy Thanksgiving that left me with no time to post (well, actually, that should really be what I had to say about Tuesday, minus the Thanksgiving part, as I meant to post but ran out of time that day — I actually intended to take Thanksgiving off anyway). I was cooking up a storm — don’t let anyone ever tell you that it’s easier to do Thanksgiving dinner when it’s just your immediate family with no guests coming over. There may be a little less of the “cooking to impress” pressure, but you’ll still have your hands full anyway. (I do a majority of the cooking in the household, in case you were wondering.) Anyway, on to today’s selection(s)…
Simply put, John Prine’s song, “Angel from Montgomery” is among the most beautiful and moving songs written in the ’70s. Released in 1971 on his debut album, John Prine, it’s a song sung from the point of view of a middle-aged woman wanting more than her life has offered her, escape from the tedium of the routine and marriage she feels trapped in. The song features a beautiful melody and moving lyrics, but it wasn’t until it was covered by Bonnie Raitt in 1974 on her Streetlights album that the song really reached its full potential. As the song was written from a woman’s perspective anyway, having it sung by an actual woman (and all indications lead me to believe that Bonnie Raitt does indeed qualify in that regard) makes it even more powerful, particularly when sung as beautifully as it was by Raitt.
Not that Prine’s version isn’t great as well — there are plenty of precedents for excellent songs sung from the perspective of the opposite sex, so it isn’t that — it’s just that his singing style may be a bit more of an acquired taste, and Raitt’s version flows a bit more smoothly and builds more dramatically (without being melodramatic). She truly connects with the song’s protagonist and makes the song her own. I think both versions are well worth listening to, but this is one of those times when I find the cover to be slightly better than the original recording. But give Prine the credit for such a convincing and moving portrait full of sadness and beauty.