Mickey Newbury – Heaven Help the Child (Album Review)

Written by on June 17, 2012 in Must-have Music - No comments

I have a strong emotional connection with Mickey Newbury’s music. There are several reasons for and each contribute in its own unique way. My father plays this LP (and other Mickey Newbury albums) a lot. It is one of his favorites not only for the beauty of the music, but also for the accomplished sound quality.

Heaven Help the Child was recorded in a fairly humble, yet legendary garage studio called Cinderella Sound Studios in Nashville (see: http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/oct11/articles/cinderella-sound.htm) back in 1972/3. Probably the most famous of recordings that emerged from the same studios at about that time is Bob Dylan’s ‘Blonde on Blonde’ mono album from 1969.

Mickey Newbury’s similarly world class production highlights the unpretentious truthfulness his music envelopes listeners with. It is this pure and honest side of Newbury’s music shining through in especially his Cinderella recordings that initially grabbed my father’s attention.

Back in the day of course, recordings such as these were made using what by today’s standards appear to be elementary mixing consoles with limited electronic enhancements or external processors. The signal path was simplistic and pure, mostly direct to tape and I firmly believe this aspect to be one of the Newbury recordings’ secrets.

Every level of additional processing lengthens the signal path. With it comes increased veiling of inner detail that eventually robbs the music of its emotional expressiveness. Needless to say, these recordings were made on analogue tape in itself the greatest medium to capture music’s emotional content.

My original American Elektra pressing of Heaven Help the Child was bought in a bundle of three Newbury records what turned out to be a golden stroke of luck through eBay for a mere two or three dollars a piece. The condition is superb allowing Mickey’s music to come to life spectacularly on the reference quality record players we have today.

The music itself is difficult to characterize, being a unique mixture of country, rock, blues and sometimes gospel. Mickey’s smokey voice suits the overall setting perfectly and it has to be said his vocal control is exemplary on all counts. Accomplished musicians accompany him on this and all of his early seventies records, the most famous being Chet Atkins on guitar.

Mickey’s songs speak of a man with a deep soul. From what must have been the beauty of Park Avenue, New-York in 1912 before WW1, Paris in the twenties with the promises life held after the war and of course there is a taste of war itself. Trains, love and life the everyday way feature regularly in all of Newbury’s music. All these truthful accounts are easy to identify with and there is something to sympathize with any mood.

The day my wife and I brought our baby boy home for the 1st time we were feeling particularly nostalgic. On the way home we played a CD on the car stereo with a collection of songs my father recorded for us from his favorite LPs. When we pulled up in front of the house in the small almost rural town we then lived in, our baby boy was fast asleep in his cradle. I picked up the video camera and started filming as family and friends on the street came to see him. Mickey Newbury’s Heaven Help the Child was playing softly during those memorable moments.

A touching mood set by this song later prompted me to produce a complete film with music, stills and footage we shot at the hospital prior to and after my son’s birth. It became his movie and it all started with the title track from this particular Mickey Newbury album. In a way Heaven Help the Child’s chorus reflected our deepest hopes, dreams and prayers for our newly born.

In my book, the only way to appreciate Mickey Newbury’s music is on the original Elektra LP releases reflecting the closest version to the original master tapes made during the recording sessions all those years ago. The atmosphere on the LP is simply striking, but to appreciate the artist’s great talents, later CD releases will also do. Just try to steer clear of the MP3 versions. Extreme data reduction renders them no good for anything meaningful.

About the Author

Audio Engineer, Critic & Retailer twenty years in the making.

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