Ab­ner Jay – ’Last Ole Min­strel Man’

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - NEWS - Donal Di­neen

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.

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