Track Premiere: Alan Barnosky “Ain’t It A Shame”

Flatpicker Alan Barnosky picked up some nice reviews for his first release,  ‘Old Freight‘, and his upcoming follow-up ‘Lonesome Road‘ from which today’s premiere is taken, is likely to do the same.  Barnosky’s music is Bluegrass to the core – reflecting years of playing since his teenage years. Back then he was an upright bass player, but a move from Michigan to North Carolina in 2012 also saw a switch to guitar as he recalls “I…fit my most essential belongings into a 4-door car, unfortunately an upright bass would have taken up just about the entire car, so that got left behind – but I did squeeze in an old acoustic dreadnought guitar

Alan Barnosky explained ‘Ain’t it a Shame‘ as being “about falling for somebody who is unavailable because they are in a relationship, but the relationship they are in is garbage.”  Things naturally are not always so simple though as he added “oOf course, there is a lot of complexity when it comes to relationships and the ups and downs that relationships have over time… but this song ignores those complexities. Real life is messy. Real life is confusing. In my opinion, messiness and confusion do not translate well in songwriting. So instead this song ignores the complexity and just focuses on the bummer feeling that comes after realizing that your crush has a partner and that partner is a jerk. I feel like taking this isolated perspective makes the song relatable, while also recognizing that the singer is probably being unreasonable.”

Thinking about the song’s structure though elicited thoughts on Barnosky’s approach to songwriting as he said “I love songs that have a little turn of phrase at the end of the chorus that pulls everything together, where everything in the song pivots on that one line. A good example is Patsy Cline’s classic ‘She’s Got You’, wherein the song she lists all the physical items she was left with after a relationship ended, and at the end of the chorus sings, “The only thing different, the only thing new, I’ve got these little things, she’s got you.”  

That song, and that phrase, in particular, hit me hard every time I hear it. It is one of my favourite songs. Countless other songs across many genres use the same technique and I try to take a similar approach here. The chorus ends, “Ain’t it a shame the way I love you, and your own man don’t.” The effect is somewhat jarring in this song because the word “don’t” is not a rhyme. It is a little bit rude, and I kind of like that about it.
When I first started writing the song, the chorus had some strong similarities to a vague melody in the back of my memory but for the life of me I could not remember what it was. As the lyrics and song developed the similarity slipped away and I pretty much forgot about it. Then as we were recording, the fiddle player Jack Devereux recorded a solo that sounded exactly like that same song that was in my memory. His solo was so similar that I was suddenly able to remember a few of the lyrics of the mystery song, so I did some internet searching to realize it was the 70s pop-country hit ‘Danny’s Song’ by Loggins and Messina! I don’t know where or when I would have heard that song, but its melody is so infectious that I guess it got buried away somewhere in my memory. There is only one little chord change in the chorus of ‘Ain’t It a Shame’ that when paired with the right melody sounds exactly like that song. Jack re-recorded the solo and now it has gone back to sounding nothing like it.
Photo: Mick Schulte.

Author: Jonathan Aird

Sure, I could climb high in a tree, or go to Skye on my holiday. I could be happy. All I really want is the excitement of first hearing The Byrds, the amazement of decades of Dylan's music, or the thrill of seeing a band like The Long Ryders live. That's not much to ask, is it?

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