In our latest holiday grab bag post, Justin Taylor, author of Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever, a collection of short stories that is just as good as its title, shares a tale of Will Oldham, John the Baptist, E.C. Ball, and being a Jew on Christmas. Enjoy!
A few years ago, I was lucky enough to see Will Oldham and his two brothers (Ned and Paul) open for Hazel Dickens at Joe’s Pub. During the show, the Oldham brothers played two songs about John the Baptist, both covers, and both called “John the Baptist.” Not long after, I was lucky again, and got to interview Will. In the course of our conversation I asked him about the original versions of the two “John the Baptists.” One, he said, was by a guy named John Martyn and appeared on an album called “Stormbringer.” The other was by E.C. Ball. I picked up an album by each man, and got my original versions. The John Martyn album didn’t do much for me, but I fell right damn in love with E.C., and his wife Orna, one of the finer husband-wife gospel teams in the history of American folk music. I own as much E.C. Ball music as is publicly available for purchase, and at least one recording session that isn’t, but I’ve always wished for a recording of Will’s version of “John the Baptist.” You can imagine my extreme delight, then, when just two days ago I received an email from the great Nathan Salsburg—mastermind of the Twos & Fews imprint of Drag City, and, as it happens, the guy who organized those Oldham/Dickens shows. Nate’s note announced that “Face the Frowning World: An E.C. Ball Memorial Album” has just been released by the Tompkins Square label. It features, among other things, a Will Oldham version of E.C.‘s “John the Baptist.” I’m incredibly excited to see this album enter the world, and I look forward to spending a lot of time with it, as soon as I get my hands on it. It would be an absolute delight to wake up on Christmas Day and find this disc under my tree. Alas, since I don’t live with anyone likely to buy me a Christmas present, don’t have a tree, and am Jewish anyway, this delectable collection is probably going to end up being one of those gifts you give yourself. But hey, at least I won’t be disappointing me with socks.
Perhaps you, dear reader, have a folk music-loving, Christophile Jew in your own life. You can learn more about this record, including how to buy it for him, here.