Sunday, September 17, 2006

Put on my worried shoes...

Daniel Smith & Sufjan Stevens - "Worried Shoes" song review

“Worried Shoes” originally appeared on Daniel Johnston’s 1983 album Yip/Jump Music. During the period of this recording, Johnston would sit in his room, hit record on his tape deck and start playing. He recorded every tape live; there was no dubbing and certainly no editing. Obviously, the quality of these recordings is awful; it’s so lo-fi that my spoiled ears can barely make out Johnston’s song and on this track in particular the only accompanying instrument is some sort of primitive chord organ. Yet, the song prevails despite its many disadvantages. The raw emotion of Johnston’s lyrics cuts through all of the fuzz and is truly impressive.
Knowing Johnston’s history and struggles with mental illness, I can only assume he wrote this song from a personal perspective. “Worried Shoes” is a sad and desperate song, which illustrates his helplessness in going down a road he knew was going to be detrimental and unpleasant but simply being unable to stop himself. It wasn’t until Johnston found himself in a hopeless position, with no friends and no one to turn to that he literally sees a ray of hope. “I looked around and I saw the sun shining down and I took off my worried shoes.” The song ultimately ends on a positive note with Johnston declaring, “I've got a lot of walking to do and I don't want to wear my worried shoes.” With the subsequent organ gaining momentum and a round of whistling, you almost believe him.
Daniel Smith and Sufjan Stevens’ cover of “Worried Shoes” is quite beautiful as well but succeeds in a separate manner. The two have added some beautiful and interesting instrumentation (no surprise there) and appropriately understated vocal work; the harmonies on the backing vocals are breathtaking. The uniqueness of Smith’s vocals really mimics Johnston’s in a way. It draws that extra attention to the vocals and makes the song more interesting. With their advancements “Worried Shoes” has really been elevated to a completely different level. They have basically made the song into the best it could have been if performed by someone other than Daniel Johnston. Smith and Stevens could never hope to achieve the emotional greatness of Johnston but have really succeeded in developing the technical aspects of the song.
Smith and Stevens’ cover of “Worried Shoes” is going to be featured on I Killed The Monster, a compilation of 21 artists covering songs of Daniel Johnston. Second Shimmy Records will release the compilation on October 10th, 2006; all proceeds from the disc will go to a fund for the care of Daniel Johnston. Until then, the track can be streamed strictly through Danielson’s myspace page.

Stream "Worried Shoes" at Danielson's myspace page.

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