When we think of Texas icon Kinky Friedman musically, it’s usually via his early wry ironic socio-political send-ups like “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore” or “Asshole From El Paso”: bawdy, hilarious rhymes with a barely veiled dark side. But Richard Friedman can step out of character and write as good a song as anyone, as Jesse Dayton proved with his album of Friedman covers Jesse Sings Kinky, which included Friedman nuggets like “Nashville Casualty and Life,” “Rapid City, South Dakota,” and “Sold American.”
On The Loneliest Man I Ever Met, his first batch of fresh recordings in three decades, Friedman eschews humor for gravitas as he covers a half dozen of his lesser known tunes and another half dozen by the likes of Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Tom Waits, and Warren Zevon. As we reported Thursday in a rambling interview with the Kinkster, the two show-stoppers are his renditions of Waits’ “A Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis” and Zevon’s poignantly direct “My Shit’s Fucked Up.” Friedman’s camp has granted the Houston Press permission to debut both tunes prior to the singer’s 5:30 p.m. in-store stop at Cactus Records. The album becomes officially available today.
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Friedman’s version of “A Christmas Card From a Hooker In Minneapolis” is an act of bravery; he recites the “letter” like a Shakespearean tragedian, his world-weary treatment leaving no doubt of his sympathy for this lady of the evening. Still, there’s something in it that says he’s seen too much to either fault her or to fall for her request to send money. Here the singer becomes the knowing sage, whereas Waits’ own version reads more like he’s as pathetic as the woman writing the letter. Friedman gets stunning results with the minimal arrangement — longtime cohort Little Jewford tinkles the piano and Mickey Raphael adds some tasty harmonica — as he faithfully recites her sad true-life lies. “Hey, Kinky, I think I’m happy for the first time since my accident/ I wish I had all the money we spent on dope/ I’d buy a used-car lot.” This one will bring some tears to some eyes.
So much of what we are being bombarded with today in the Americana and singer-songwriter genres is built on fake sentiment and fake soul, but Friedman leaves no doubt he means every word of Warren Zevon’s “My Shit’s Fucked Up.” Guitarist Joe Cirotti and Raphael put a dark, ominous slow-boil under Friedman’s reading. By the time Friedman finishes, it’s clear that no one needs to cover this again, it’s been nailed.
Friedman will perform tunes from The Loneliest Man I Ever Met and sign autographs at Cactus Music today at 5:30.