I didn’t know Miranda Lambert had some chart success with a recording of the song “All Kinds of Kinds.”
I might have raised an uproar.
Lambert’s song was released in 2013, long after the definitive version of the song had already been recorded.
More than a decade ago, a musician I also considered a friend came out and sang a song that seemed to perfectly define her artistic statement of purpose.
Barbara Bailey Hutchison strolled on the stage, smiling broadly, singing about all the freaks in the song, and looking each member of the audience directly in the eye. She sang of a wedding of circus freaks (an acrobat and human cannonball in front of a howling dog-faced boy and a crying tattooed lady); a cross-dressing congressman and his lover, a speed-taking (and making) female pharmacist, who doped up her kids so she could host their trysts; and the bold move of the narrator, who tossed a geometry test and left town, stopping to reduce the town’s population number as she rode by it, taking her number back.
All the while, it seemed she was saying to us, “They’re freaks, the freaks who don’t look like freaks are even freakier, and I put myself last because, well, maybe I’m not exactly as freaky as you think or I might like to be, but I’m still a freak. And I know you all are too, in your own way. Let’s kick back and enjoy the freakiness and share some nice music.”
I had the advantage by that time of knowing Barbara well. (Forgive me for calling her “Barbara” instead of “Hutchison” all the way through. It’s a transgression of a pretty precious writing principle. But this isn’t a newspaper, and this story is personal.) I was, when first hearing her version of “All Kinds of Kinds,” within a few months of literally standing in her living room and yelling across her house as she stood in her kitchen, me complaining about her “bullshit hippie ideals.” (Yeah, I used those words, which says a lot about her tolerance, about where I thought our relationship was at the time, and about what a jackass I could be taking advantage of another’s kindness.)
We’d talked often enough to have a general understanding. I knew what kind of performer she was, and the performer wasn’t that far from the real person. In fact, the real person was even a little nicer, which is as unnerving as it is accurate. She knew I was a music fan who wasn’t afraid to look at things with a critical eye, yet open to being led down and shown around an unfamiliar path.
So hearing Barbara come out and open a show with that song – well, it was the best opener she ever could find.
Here’s a live version, recorded a long time ago, when the more important thing was to just have a record of the performance, something people could see if they wanted to book her and something fans could look at to remember a good time.
What a way to set the stage for the characters to come, from the person criticized for a drawing where the sky was painted green to the person wanting the world rid of guns, from the person bemoaning the rebellion inherent in daughters of feminists to “It’s Love.” probably her true statement of purpose socially. And remember, she’s been singing that song to people for more than a decade.
“All Kinds of Kinds” was the opening track to her album “Breath by Breath.” The album was 17th in my top 20 when it was released in 2006. (And that was a really solid year for music.) What jumped out at me most when first listening to the album was its production, handled by Barbara herself.
I occasionally will mention to performers or listeners that production reminds me of Brian Wilson. What too many people think when I say that is falsetto “oooo-eeee-oooo”s. And that’s not what they want. That’s not what I mean, so I try to avoid using the comparison. Except when I really can’t think of anything else.
And when it comes to “Breath by Breath,” I can’t think of much else. Every time I play it, especially with headphones on, I hear new tricks. There’s an extra vocal track hiding here, some offbeat percussion tricks there. (Very “Pet Sounds.”) That’s whence I draw the Brian Wilson comparison: Listening to each track is a treat beyond hearing a performance of a song. You’re hearing a PRODUCTION of a song. Not every act does it. Not every act has to. And the ones who do it don’t always do it well. Particularly on this effort, Barbara took every worthwhile extra step.
Here’s a brief snippet of the studio version, taken from her website. You can hear the ear candy of flourishes. The thing I love most? How you can hear her smile while singing. I’ve been around people who criticize Paul McCartney for smiling and almost losing it in “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” I find that smile/near-laugh to be part of its charm. And Barbara smiling while singing about the freaks in “All Kinds of Kinds,” the ones she so clearly loves so dearly, is the bow that makes the song one of my favorites by her.
Barbara is also on the unfortunate receiving end of one of my greatest disappointments as a writer and a person. The lovely Mrs. Cain and I spent a week in Nashville with the purpose of me conducting hours of interviews for a book, a biography of Barbara. She’s had a remarkable life. There are great stories.
I’ve gotten as far as transcribing interviews and trying to write. Trying. I’ve never been able to figure out how to proceed with it, much less finish it. Of all the red-light-flashing failures in my life, my inability to complete this book is very close to being the beacon. I can’t get over my disappointment in myself.
The funny thing is, though, that I listen to the music, and it allows me to forgive myself. A bit.
That’s a pretty solid endorsement, isn’t it?
(By the way, if you’ve read much stuff here, you might recognize Barbara Bailey Hutchison’s name. She was a key player in one of the most amazing nights in my life, where I sang backup and played guitar with another musician I admired almost as much as I admire her.)