North Carolina summers run hot and sticky, and somewhere in the middle you’re not sure they are going to end. As a kid, I lived for thunderstorms… watching them blow up, creeping dark across the sky like I create a gradient fill on the computer screen. The air would green and cool, and lay across your skin like soft muslin, not heavy just there. The anticipation made the waits between them seem longer, and I had specific times I really wanted one to break over the horizon and I always wanted it for a birthday present. I’m an August girl, and while standard fare included a cook out and homemade ice cream which work better on sunny days, I always craved rain to break those long, golden dog days…
There was one glorious birthday — where the sky was the color of a London stereotype…. and the rain pelted down with biblical fervor. The darling I was dating planned all sorts of errands, so I got to “necessarily” be out in the deluge… culminating in a champagne and strawberry feast while watching the storm, satisfyingly drenched.
It can rain here north of the Mason-Dixon — as I remember the only times the girls missed school for the first two years were from rain events. The storms are big, and the accompanying lightning shows spectacular — it’s just something in the air that’s not the same…. maybe that elusive “it” is lurking in this wildly evocative poem by Alabama native, Rodney Jones. His description of the smell of Southern rain, the perfect title (one of the top ten best sounds in the world), just the words in general… wow!
If I ever get over the bodies of women,
I am going to think of the rain,
of waiting under the eaves of an old house
at that moment
when it takes a form like fog.
It makes the mountain vanish.
Then the smell of rain,
which is the smell of the earth
a plow turns up,only condensed and refined.
Almost fifty years since thunder rolled
and the nerves woke like secret agents under the skin.
Brazil is where I wanted to live.
The border is not far from here.
Lonely and grateful would be my way to end,
and something for the pain please,
a little purity to sand the rough edges,
a slow downpour from the Dark Ages,
a drizzle from the Pleistocene.
As I dream of the rain’s long body,
I will eliminate from mind all the qualities that rain deletes
and then I will be primed to study rain’s power,
the first drops lightly hallowing,
but now and again a great gallop of the horse of rainor
an explosion of orange-green light.
A simple radiance, it requires no discipline.
Before I knew women,
I knew the lonely pleasures of rain.
The mist and then the clearing.
I will listen where the lightning thrills
the rooster up a willow,and my whole life flowing
until I have no choice, only the rain,
and I step into it
— Rain on Tin –> Rodney Jones
- Drive South (John Hiatt) — there are few voices that evoke “south” more thoroughly, maybe if Shelby Foote broke into song… every now and then don’t you want to just drive….
- Buckets of Rain (Neko Case) — Canadian musician Case, defies genre and as a result, isn’t as well known, well as I think she should be 🙂 . Her cover of Dylan’s song is driving, raw and quite perfect!
- Tobacco Road or Wolverton Mountain (Southern Culture on the Skids) — I first saw SCOTS at a tiny little bar on Market St. in Greensboro (next to a florist, of all things)…. they are randomly brilliant… I had to put two songs — a lot of their original music evokes sense memories of “back home,” while Wolverton is just classic.
- Listening to the Rain (None of the Above) — speaking of NC, this little bluegrass band is made of partly of teachers from Mt. Airy (or was it Mebane) — and they are tight!
- When it’s sleepy time down south (Sidney Bechet) — imagine moonlight sliding down a soprano sax and falling out as music, and you have just how magical this recording is…
- Mandolin Rain (Bruce Hornsby) — I’ve seen him live many times, when he toured with the Dead, and as a solo act. He is such a generous performer — you can feel him sharing the music with you, and that’s how his piano feels as you listen.
- Summertime (Willie Nelson & Leon Russell) — there are better versions of this, most definitely. There’s just something fun about these two grizzled legends performing this song that makes it fresh and playful.
- Fire & Rain (James Taylor) — it JT — when he starts this song at a show, he really doesn’t need to keep singing, because the crowd makes it a giant sing-a-long… almost rumbling like thunder in the “hmm, what’s that lyric part?”
- Bright Sunny South (Alison Krauss & Union Station) — one of those bluegrass, Civil War songs that makes you want to become a painter to capture its vales & lights
- Shadows in the Rain (Sting) — great Police song, but Sting does a cover of it on Dream of the Blue Turtles with Dominic Miller & Branford Marsalis that is just breathtaking and breakneck in its execution.
- Southern Belles in London Sing (the Faint) — alt song that I have no idea why is just makes me smile —
- Box of Rain (Grateful Dead) — 1st time I heard this live, I wasn’t actually inside JFK stadium — I remember stopping, listening to it come out over the speakers — and asking this biker what song it was — he told me, then explained how he used that song to propose to his “ex-old lady.”
- Summer is over (Jon McLaughlin & Sara Bareilles) — sweet, melancholy little song that would work with rain dripping from the eaves on a summer night
- Purple Rain (Prince) –Prince Purple Rain…. ’nuff said.
- The Green Fields of Summer (Peter Wolf & Neko Case) — from Peter Wolf’s Midnight Souvenirs album — he duets with my much loved Neko, also has a great track with Shelby Lynne.
- I love a Rainy Night (Eddie Rabbit) — Tell me the song didn’t pop into your head as soon as you saw the title — it’s one of those Achy Breaky/Macarena songs that becomes omnipresent after its release — I can remember my mother singing it (badly)
- Our Last Summer (from Mama Mia) — a bittersweet, lovely little chance to fall back into a reverie of all those past summers
- No Rain (Blind Melon) or Heavy Clouds, No Rain (Sting) — feel like I’m betraying the ’90s if I leave the Blind Melon song off the list, but I so prefer Sting’s driving rhythm
- Last of the Summer Wine (Palma Violets) — OK, like some people (myself included) choose wine once in a while for a label, I discovered this band because I adore parma violets (and Napoleon was said to be enamored of them) — they are an English Indie group, along the lines of Arctic Monkeys, maybe a smidge mellower….
Like a welcome summer rain, humor may suddenly cleanse cool the earth, the air and you..–> Langston Hughes