‘Simple Song’ – John Paul White

As a labour of love producer Dave Cobb (Jason Isbell, Anderson East, Chris Stapleton) decided to create a concept album that best represented the South; their South not the Hollywood version, and asked his collaborators, which include Isbell, Stapleton and East as well as John Paul White of The Civil Wars, Miranda Lambert and Shooter Jennings, to tell their own story, “going deep or going small, maybe taking a chance they wouldn’t on an album of their own”.

The concept album, ‘Southern Family’, released on Cobb’s Low Country Sound (imprint of Elektra Records) was partially inspired by a now out of print 1978 record, ‘White Mansions’. The album is a song cycle set in Civil War times performed by Americana music forebears Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter, among others, but brought to fruition by two Englishmen, writer Paul Kennerly and producer Glyn Johns. “It’s the way it makes you feel, that record,” Cobb says of White Mansions. “It’s cinematic.”

‘Southern Family’ is due out on March 18th but until then, one track has been released; ‘Simple Song by John Paul White. If you are looking for a deeply personal tale of loss yet also one that can be interpreted a thousand different ways then ‘Simple Song’ is for you.

Credit: Allister Ann
Credit: Allister Ann

In one of White’s first shows since the ending of The Civil Wars, he did let the cat of the bag telling the audience that the song was about his Grandmother’s conversation to him just after his Grandfather died. Finding that she didn’t seem to be mourning, White asked her why a man who meant so much to him growing up, why his death didn’t cause her cry. Her answer was that she had done her mourning when White’s Grandfather was alive and battling his own demons, and now that he was safe from harm, she had no need to cry.

“Done my mourning in your arms/ Ain’t gonna lose sleep when you’re safe from harm.”

‘Simple Song’ though seemingly outwardly simple both instrumentally and lyrically, the song is so much more once you really listen to the poignancy of the lyrics and their meanings which depending in what light you’re standing, can mean many, many more things to you on each listen. The chorus is just one of those facets to the story that can mean different things to different people.

“I loved you hard and I loved you long/ Sung every chorus to this simple song/ But I will remember, I will remember/ I will remember/ But I will cry for you no more.”

Is the simple song, her marriage, the ups and downs? Or is it her way of saying she saw the end as being inevitable and she was just waiting for when, not if? Like White’s work with The Civil Wars, the song though sparse is full of meaning and layers, and allows the listener to put themselves in the story instead of being a mere spectator.

The song begins with White and a steady guitar reminiscent of Townes Van Zandt; that underrated country musician with a penchant for melancholy stories and honest lyrics. As chorus comes in, bringing with it piano and percussion, and heartbreaking, you begin to steadily realise that this is anything but a simple song. With White’s heart tugging voice and delicate strings, the song comes into its own; an ode to a lost love but one that doesn’t mourn its end because its end is peace.

“When he comes calling, I will let you go.”

You can read more from Dave Cobb at NPR.

4 thoughts on “‘Simple Song’ – John Paul White

  1. Discovered this song just today and already is on repeat. I’ve cried twice, and was trying to find the story behind it. What I love most about The Civil Wars’, and of course JPW’s, way of songwriting is that listeners can freely incorporate and transcend themselves and their personal feelings toward the music. Thanks for posting this.

    1. Thank you. And I’m pleased you were able to find out the story behind the song. But I agree, and I love the way you put it, that his songwriting and the songwriting of The Civil Wars transcends the individual(s), allowing the listener to find themselves in the song.

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