Abner Jay – ’Last Ole Minstrel Man’
It’s funny the way we fawn over our musical heroes while they’re here and then canonise them when they’re gone. I guess it’s no surprise really. Music is one of the things that lifts us up and puts us in touch with the divine. It’s only natural that we should see these people as stars.
But they’re not all saints and the best of them tend to be sinners, just like us.
Abner Jay had a foot in both camps. His religious devotion to his craft is best exemplified by the way he took to the roads of the southern states of America in a converted trailer with its own stage and PA. He pursued this itinerant way of life with vocational zeal. He never stayed too long in any one place for his light to diminish. He came, he shone and then he was gone.
The way he reconciled the sinner in himself through his music is what sets it apart. In between the spirituals and the pentecostal hymns, there are original songs and stories that tell it like it is in the most truthful and humorous of ways. He tackles subjects such as depression and drug addiction in highly personal terms. His honesty is disarming. His struggles are laid bare. There is a sense of music being a redemptive force. The hard knocks did nothing to dampen his ardour.
So this collection of songs is significant because it is compiled from his last-ever recording session in Atlanta, Georgia in 1993. The coarser edges of his singing style have fallen away. What’s left is no less forceful but the weariness in his tone makes for poignant listening. I Cried is a forlorn hymn to lost love that will break your heart. An air of resignation is pervasive. It is haunted and haunting.
The cover bears a photo of Abner drinking from the waters of his beloved Suwaunee river. He considered it sacred and credited it with the secret of his eternal youth. Sadly, his time on the bank soon ran out but his reflection appears stronger with every passing day.