Country vocalist Mandy Barnett, who has gained widespread acclaim for her stage portrayal of the legendary Patsy Cline in the Always…Patsy Cline musical, fulfills a decade-old promise she made to a friend and mentor with her latest album I Can’t Stop Loving You – The Songs of Don Gibson, released late last year via Cracker Barrel. The project’s current single is Barnett’s version of Gibson’s 1958 hit “Blue Blue Day,” which features background vocals by modern Country and Bluegrass legend Alison Krauss.
In a recent phone interview with Roughstock, Barnett explains how the album came to be. “We met back in 2001, and I had cut the song ‘Give Myself a Party’ on the album I did with Owen Bradley, I’ve Got a Right to Cry. I had always been a fan of his songwriting and singing, and the whole package. I had a lot of his albums on vinyl. He was always an enigma to me. I never thought that I would ever meet him because everyone said he was very reclusive and that he didn’t get out and go to shows. Harold Bradley had told me that he would be a very hard person to meet or get to know.”
She continues, “I guess it was just sort of a fluke. His wife called Harold Bradley and said that they wanted to come out and hear me at 3rd and Lindsley, so they came out that night and he was just gracious and wonderful as he could be. We were just thrilled that he was there. We ended up becoming good friends. They asked me if I would go to lunch with them the next week, and we did. We went to the Chinese buffet out on Whitebridge Road, and from then on we would meet weekly. Sometimes a couple times a week either at a restaurant or their house or they would come to my house or we’d go out to eat. We got to be good close friends. We’d sing together. We’d talk. They knew that I was trying to make it in the music business struggling with labels and all the different things. I also played the Grand Ole Opry on a regular basis, and they would tune in on the weekends, and I would always play a Don Gibson song, and that led him to ask me if I were ever think of a doing an album of all his songs.
“That’s kind of how it came about. Of course I wasn’t able to make it until after he had passed away, and that’s just because of money and time and just being able to figure out how to do it. So it is a promise fulfilled, and one that I was really glad to make.”
What does Barnett think made Gibson such a compelling songwriter? She explains, “His songs are simple, but they said a lot. One of the great things about his songs, even though he was a country boy and a country singer, his style surpassed all genres. You could have someone like Kitty Wells have a number one record on ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You,’ and then turn around and have someone like Ray Charles record the song, you’re really on to something. And that’s been pretty much a standard with all of those big songs that he wrote that he wrote that could be recorded by anyone and sound great. I mean, you’ve got the Patsy Cline version of ‘Sweet Dreams’ and Faron Young did a great version. ‘Oh Lonesome Me’ is another one that’s been covered by everyone from him to Neil Young. He was just an incredible songwriter that said a lot in a very simple way.”
A highlight of the album is the current single, “Blue Blue Day,” a song originally recorded by Gibson as an up-tempo which Barnett reinterprets as a ballad. “’Blue Blue Day,’ was absolutely radical, but it worked,” she says. “It wasn’t something we set out to do just to be completely different. It was just sort of a fluke. I had no idea how that was gonna come about. I wasn’t crazy about the up-tempo arrangement as far as me doing it. I loved the record that Don did, but I didn’t want to do it that way. It was an accident how it all came about, but I’m just so thrilled that it did come across that way….I think the song dictates the arrangement sometimes.”
On guest vocalist Alison Krauss, Barnett says, “We worked together in the nineties on my debut album and my first single. She sang with me on that, and we’ve stayed in contact through the years. It started to come together, and it just felt like, ‘Okay, this is the missing component. I need Alison Krauss on this song, and it’s gonna make it all come together.’ I reached out to her, and she was so gracious and agreed to it immediately and said she’s love to do it. It’s just surreal that she sang on it.”
I Can’t Stop Loving You: The Songs of Don Gibson is available now at Cracker Barrel stores nationwide and at www.crackerbarrel.com (and iTunes) For more information on Mandy Barnett, visit www.mandybarnett.com.