Bill Callahan & Bonnie “Prince” Billy – “Miracle” (Johnnie Frierson Cover) (Feat. Ty Segall)
For months now, indie veterans and longtime collaborators Bill Callahan and Bonnie “Prince” Billy have been working together on a series of cover-song collaborations. The critic Sasha Frere-Jones has referred to their ongoing project as Bill Communication, and I’m extremely mad that I didn’t think of that first. If they ever compile all those covers into an actual album, they need to use that title. In the past few weeks, Callahan and Bonnie Billy have been adding to their repertoire, releasing covers of songs from ’70s greats like Robert Wyatt, Little Feat, and Lou Reed. Today, they’ve gone with something more obscure.
As Brooklyn Vegan points out, Callahan and Will Oldham’s latest cover is “Miracles,” a song from the late Memphis soul and gospel singer Johnnie Frierson. In the ’60s, Frierson had been part of a Stax Records soul group called the Drapels, and he also co-wrote “After Laughter (Comes Tears),” a song that his sister Wendy Rene released in 1964. (It’s been sampled dozens of times, most notably by the Wu-Tang Clan on “Tearz.”) But Frierson had to leave music behind after being drafted and fighting in the Vietnam War, and he endured a whole lot of trauma in the years after. In the ’90s, when Frierson was working a series of working-class jobs and hosting a gospel radio show in Memphis, he also made some home-recorded cassettes that he sold locally. Frierson died in 2010 at the age of 64. Two years later, the reissue label Light In The Attic released Have You Been Good To Yourself, a collection of Frierson’s self-released songs. “Miracles” comes from that collection.
“Miracles” is a strange but positive-minded song, an affirmation that human beings are capable of amazing things. Callahan and Oldham recorded their version of the song with psych-rock wizard Ty Segall. They’ve turned the acoustic lope of the original into a slow, sauntering strut, building it on a cheap-sounding synth track. Check out the Callahan/Oldham/Segall cover and the Johnnie Frierson original below.
Like all the other Bill Callahan/Bonnie “Prince” Billy covers, “Miracles” is out now on Drag City.