Today I made a contribution to the continuing BPP series, "Best Song in the World Today," with the classic spiritual "I'll Fly Away." The choice was inspired by the jarring experience of going from the Grand Canyon to Las Vegas last weekend.
My wife and I went from a place created entirely by nature over several hundred million years to a place created entirely by humans in a geological instant, and it was quite a shock to the system. (The experience came complete with a guy in a "Buttweiser" T-shirt that proclamed him the "King of Rears.") Hear about the whole epic debacle here.
"I'll Fly Away" was originally written by Albert Brumley in 1929, and since then it's become one of the most covered songs of all time. It's been performed by everyone from Andy Griffith to Kanye West. Working on this segment actually got me thinking: What's the best version of "I'll Fly Away" ever?
I actually had a little debate with myself over which version to use. I have three on my iPod: Allison Krauss and Gillian Welch from the "O Brother Where Art Thou?" soundtrack, Johnny Cash from those Rick Rubin sessions late in his life, and Steve Goodman performing it live. (As Goodman correctly points out while introducing it, "This is the song that proves you don't have to know very much about Jesus to like spirituals.")
I think those Cash/Rubin sessions are a little hit or miss, and this one's more a miss. (I can only hear Johnny Cash sing about death as he approaches it for so long before it starts sounding less poignant and more opportunistic.) The Goodman version is good, but a little less melodic than what I wanted for this segment. Not surprisingly he goes with more of a talking blues approach, which was one of his strengths. So I chose the Krauss/Welch rendition. But there are so many more.
Take a listen to some of these renditions of "I'll Fly Away" and tell us which one you like best...
- Allison Krauss & Gillian Welch
- Johnny Cash
- Steve Goodman
- Kanye West
- The Kossoy Sisters (This version is the one actually featured in the film "O Brother Where Art Thou?" The Krauss/Welch rendition appears in its place on the soundtrack.)
- Jimmy Swaggart (Yes, that Jimmy Swaggart)
- John Legend
- The Stanley Brothers
- Some random kids on YouTube