Texan singer/songwriter Jamie Lin Wilson is inspired by “[t]he folks who paint pictures with words and sing it like they mean it.” Wilson clarified for American Songwriter these folks are “[o]bviously, [Mickey] Newbury and his cohorts… Patty Griffin, Todd Snider, [John] Prine, Silverstein, Courtney Patton. There are so many.”
These influences ring throughout her work as Wilson’s voice swings and slides through her folksy harmonies. Recently, Wilson decided to play off of her musical models and create a set of covers, releasing her own take on Mickey Newbury’s 1969 song, “T Total Tommy.”
“I was looking for some inspiration, so I thought I’d take some outside songs into the studio to see if I could stretch my comfort zone a little,” Wilson said. “I’ve loved Newbury’s songs and his point of view for a long time and as I was listening one morning, this song [‘T Total Tommy’] caught my ear. I listened to it over and over and knew right away this was my match. I love the images, the groove, the way the words wind together to move you through the song. When covering a song, I always feel like there needs to be a need for it. You don’t cover a song to make a better version, but to honor it and bring a fresh perspective. He was a master of his craft and I look forward to singing his songs and being inspired.”
Wilson’s cover of “T Total Tommy” captures the groove that she describes in Newbury’s original, and she matches his ingenious speech-like singing line for line. Wilson, however, does leave her stamp on the track via her warm and raspy timbre. Her keen emphasis for subtleties also slips in a little humor into “T Total Tommy.” Regarding her sound, Wilson stated, “Just let yourself absorb the lyrics and see what they mean to you. I hope the song just floats over you and makes you want to sing along.”
This cover’s creative process happened in Arlyn Studios in Austin, Texas, with Wilson’s producer Scott Davis. “We went in with no pressure and a general ‘see what happens’ attitude that really paid off,” Wilson said.
But Wilson doesn’t want to stop with just one cover—she wants this track to inspire a type of musical revival. “I want people to dive back into Mickey Newbury’s catalog,” she said. “He released this on Looks Like Rain in 1969. That’s a great record. He influenced so many of the greats that we consider to have starting the sentimental songwriter movement—Guy [Clark], Townes [Van Sant], [Kris] Kristofferson, Rodney Crowell. I just found out that Gretchen Peters made a tribute record to him. I’m actually listening to it today. Let’s all dig in to Newbury. That’s what I want to happen.”
Photo courtesy of Jamie Lin Wilson