Not many people — maybe no one — wait until they are 68 to record a debut album, but Kevin “Blackie” Farrell isn’t just anyone. No, not by a long shot.
While he is widely unknown, for the cognoscenti Farrell goes back to the wild-and-wooly drug-crazed Cosmic Cowboy glory days of Austin circa 1972, when he was one of the secret weapons of one of the Armadillo World Headquarters’ favorite acts of the era, Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. Farrell wrote what became a Cody standard and Austin favorite, “Mama Hated Diesels,” from the band’s trucker-themed second album, Hot Licks, Cold Steel & Trucker’s Favorites. Farrell’s connection to the band was via guitarist Bill Kirchen, who, along with Gurf Morlix, convinced Farrell it was time to do his own recording. Now or never.
If recognized at all these days, Farrell is probably best known as the author of “Sonora’s Death Row,” a song now associated mainly with Robert Earl Keen, Jr., who recorded it on his 1989 album, West Textures. The tune is also included on Keen’s 1996 live album, No. 2 Live Dinner. But Kirchen had recorded the tune as The Moonlighters in 1977 and Leo Kottke recorded a version on his 1978 album Burnt Lips. It has also been recorded by Dave Alvin, Tom Russell, Michael Martin Murphy, Richard Shindell and the duo of Jeffrey Foucault and Mark Erelli.
Farrell’s album, Cold Country Blues, contains his own versions of “Mama Hated Diesels” and “Sonora’s Death Row” as well as a beautiful rendition of another tune covered by the Airmen, the trucker’s love song “Tina Louise.” It also contains the hilarious “Rockabilly Funeral,“ which Kirchen has performed in his sets for years. But Farrell has also included two previously unrecorded tunes that should prove to be real treats for fans of his writing. The first is a virtual bookend to “Sonora’s Death Row” entitled “Jim Donny’s Gold.” A grisly tale that opens with two miners reevaluating their venture after a mean winter without finding any gold, the set-up is brutal: “We’ve been prospectin’ since early last spring/ Three horses have died and we ain’t found a thing.” We won’t spoil the story for you, but “Jim Donny’s Gold” is every bit as powerful and cinematic as “Sonora’s Death Row.”
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But many listeners may find the honky tonk two-stepper “She’s One of Those Kind” most interesting, not just because it’s a stone-cold tonker but because it was originally intended for Doug Sahm, who died of a heart attack without recording the tune.
“I had Doug in mind all along when I wrote that,” says Farrell. “I was hearing it in my head in his voice.”
So, without further adieu, welcome to the world premiere of Blackie Farrell’s “She’s One of Those Kind.” Cold Country Blues will likely be available by mid-February, although Farrell doesn’t have a firm date yet. Pre-order the CD at this link.