Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Daily Carlo: 'And so he had to die'

They hanged him as a beast is hanged:
They did not even toll
A requiem that might have brought
Rest to his startled soul,
But hurriedly they took him out,
And hid him in a hole.

The Ballad of Reading Gaol

Oscar Wilde

He did not wear his scarlet coat,
For blood and wine are red,
And blood and wine were on his hands
When they found him with the dead,
The poor dead woman whom he loved,
And murdered in her bed.

He walked amongst the Trial Men
In a suit of shabby grey;
A cricket cap was on his head,
And his step seemed light and gay;
But I never saw a man who looked
So wistfully at the day.

I never saw a man who looked
With such a wistful eye
Upon that little tent of blue
Which prisoners call the sky,
And at every drifting cloud that went
With sails of silver by.

I walked, with other souls in pain,
Within another ring,
And was wondering if the man had done
A great or little thing,
When a voice behind me whispered low,

Dear Christ! the very prison walls
Suddenly seemed to reel,
And the sky above my head became
Like a casque of scorching steel;
And, though I was a soul in pain,
My pain I could not feel.

I only knew what hunted thought
Quickened his step, and why
He looked upon the garish day
With such a wistful eye;
The man had killed the thing he loved,
And so he had to die.

Yet each man kills the thing he loves,
By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!

Some kill their love when they are young,
And some when they are old;
Some strangle with the hands of Lust,
Some with the hands of Gold:
The kindest use a knife, because
The dead so soon grow cold.

Some love too little, some too long,
Some sell, and others buy;
Some do the deed with many tears,
And some without a sigh:
For each man kills the thing he loves,
Yet each man does not die.

He does not die a death of shame
On a day of dark disgrace,
Nor have a noose about his neck,
Nor a cloth upon his face,
Nor drop feet foremost through the floor
Into an empty space.

He does not sit with silent men
Who watch him night and day;
Who watch him when he tries to weep,
And when he tries to pray;
Who watch him lest himself should rob
The prison of its prey.

He does not wake at dawn to see
Dread figures throng his room,
The shivering Chaplain robed in white,
The Sheriff stern with gloom,
And the Governor all in shiny black,
With the yellow face of Doom.

He does not rise in piteous haste
To put on convict-clothes,
While some coarse-mouthed Doctor gloats,
and notes
Each new and nerve-twitched pose,
Fingering a watch whose little ticks
Are like horrible hammer-blows.

He does not know that sickening thirst
That sands one's throat, before
The hangman with his gardener's gloves
Slips through the padded door,
And binds one with three leathern thongs,
That the throat may thirst no more.

He does not bend his head to hear
The Burial Office read,
Nor, while the terror of his soul
Tells him he is not dead,
Cross his own coffin, as he moves
Into the hideous shed.

He does not stare upon the air
Through a little roof of glass:
He does not pray with lips of clay
For his agony to pass;
Nor feel upon his shuddering cheek
The kiss of Caiaphas.


Six weeks our guardsman walked the yard,
In the suit of shabby grey:
His cricket cap was on his head,
And his step seemed light and gay,
But I never saw a man who looked
So wistfully at the day.

I never saw a man who looked
With such a wistful eye
Upon that little tent of blue
Which prisoners call the sky,
And at every wandering cloud that trailed
Its ravelled fleeces by.

He did not wring his hands, as do
Those witless men who dare
To try to rear the changeling Hope
In the cave of black Despair:
He only looked upon the sun,
And drank the morning air.

He did not wring his hands nor weep,
Nor did he peek or pine,
But he drank the air as though it held
Some healthful anodyne;
With open mouth he drank the sun
As though it had been wine!

And I and all the souls in pain,
Who tramped the other ring,
Forgot if we ourselves had done
A great or little thing,
And watched with gaze of dull amaze
The man who had to swing.

And strange it was to see him pass
With a step so light and gay,
And strange it was to see him look
So wistfully at the day,
And strange it was to think that he
Had such a debt to pay.

For oak and elm have pleasant leaves
That in the springtime shoot:
But grim to see is the gallows-tree,
With its adder-bitten root,
And, green or dry, a man must die
Before it bears its fruit!

The loftiest place is that seat of grace
For which all worldlings try:
But who would stand in hempen band
Upon a scaffold high,
And through a murderer's collar take
His last look at the sky?

It is sweet to dance to violins
When Love and Life are fair:
To dance to flutes, to dance to lutes
Is delicate and rare:
But it is not sweet with nimble feet
To dance upon the air!

So with curious eyes and sick surmise
We watched him day by day,
And wondered if each one of us
Would end the self-same way,
For none can tell to what red Hell
His sightless soul may stray.

At last the dead man walked no more
Amongst the Trial Men,
And I knew that he was standing up
In the black dock's dreadful pen,
And that never would I see his face
In God's sweet world again.

Like two doomed ships that pass in storm
We had crossed each other's way:
But we made no sign, we said no word,
We had no word to say;
For we did not meet in the holy night,
But in the shameful day.

A prison wall was round us both,
Two outcast men we were:
The world had thrust us from its heart,
And God from out His care:
And the iron gin that waits for Sin
Had caught us in its snare.


In Debtors' Yard the stones are hard,
And the dripping wall is high,
So it was there he took the air
Beneath the leaden sky,
And by each side a Warder walked,
For fear the man might die.

Or else he sat with those who watched
His anguish night and day;
Who watched him when he rose to weep,
And when he crouched to pray;
Who watched him lest himself should rob
Their scaffold of its prey.

The Governor was strong upon
The Regulations Act:
The Doctor said that Death was but
A scientific fact:
And twice a day the Chaplain called,
And left a little tract.

And twice a day he smoked his pipe,
And drank his quart of beer:
His soul was resolute, and held
No hiding-place for fear;
He often said that he was glad
The hangman's hands were near.

But why he said so strange a thing
No Warder dared to ask:
For he to whom a watcher's doom
Is given as his task,
Must set a lock upon his lips,
And make his face a mask.

Or else he might be moved, and try
To comfort or console:
And what should Human Pity do
Pent up in Murderers' Hole?
What word of grace in such a place
Could help a brother's soul?

With slouch and swing around the ring
We trod the Fools' Parade!
We did not care: we knew we were
The Devil's Own Brigade:
And shaven head and feet of lead
Make a merry masquerade.

We tore the tarry rope to shreds
With blunt and bleeding nails;
We rubbed the doors, and scrubbed the floors,
And cleaned the shining rails:
And, rank by rank, we soaped the plank,
And clattered with the pails.

We sewed the sacks, we broke the stones,
We turned the dusty drill:
We banged the tins, and bawled the hymns,
And sweated on the mill:
But in the heart of every man
Terror was lying still.

So still it lay that every day
Crawled like a weed-clogged wave:
And we forgot the bitter lot
That waits for fool and knave,
Till once, as we tramped in from work,
We passed an open grave.

With yawning mouth the yellow hole
Gaped for a living thing;
The very mud cried out for blood
To the thirsty asphalte ring:
And we knew that ere one dawn grew fair
Some prisoner had to swing.

Right in we went, with soul intent
On Death and Dread and Doom:
The hangman, with his little bag,
Went shuffling through the gloom:
And each man trembled as he crept
Into his numbered tomb.

That night the empty corridors
Were full of forms of Fear,
And up and down the iron town
Stole feet we could not hear,
And through the bars that hide the stars
White faces seemed to peer.

He lay as one who lies and dreams
In a pleasant meadow-land,
The watchers watched him as he slept,
And could not understand
How one could sleep so sweet a sleep
With a hangman close at hand.

But there is no sleep when men must weep
Who never yet have wept:
So we - the fool, the fraud, the knave -
That endless vigil kept,
And through each brain on hands of pain
Another's terror crept.

Alas! it is a fearful thing
To feel another's guilt!
For, right within, the sword of Sin
Pierced to its poisoned hilt,
And as molten lead were the tears we shed
For the blood we had not spilt.

The Warders with their shoes of felt
Crept by each padlocked door,
And peeped and saw, with eyes of awe,
Grey figures on the floor,
And wondered why men knelt to pray
Who never prayed before.

All through the night we knelt and prayed,
Mad mourners of a corse!
The troubled plumes of midnight were
The plumes upon a hearse:
And bitter wine upon a sponge
Was the savour of Remorse.

The grey cock crew, the red cock crew,
But never came the day:
And crooked shapes of Terror crouched,
In the corners where we lay:
And each evil sprite that walks by night
Before us seemed to play.

They glided past, they glided fast,
Like travellers through a mist:
They mocked the moon in a rigadoon
Of delicate turn and twist,
And with formal pace and loathsome grace
The phantoms kept their tryst.

With mop and mow, we saw them go,
Slim shadows hand in hand:
About, about, in ghostly rout
They trod a saraband:
And the damned grotesques made arabesques,
Like the wind upon the sand!

With the pirouettes of marionettes,
They tripped on pointed tread:
But with flutes of Fear they filled the ear,
As their grisly masque they led,
And loud they sang, and long they sang,
For they sang to wake the dead.

'Oho!' they cried, 'The world is wide,
But fettered limbs go lame!
And once, or twice, to throw the dice
Is a gentlemanly game,
But he does not win who plays with Sin
In the secret House of Shame.'

No things of air these antics were,
That frolicked with such glee:
To men whose lives were held in gyves,
And whose feet might not go free,
Ah! wounds of Christ! they were living things,
Most terrible to see.

Around, around, they waltzed and wound;
Some wheeled in smirking pairs;
With the mincing step of a demirep
Some sidled up the stairs:
And with subtle sneer, and fawning leer,
Each helped us at our prayers.

The morning wind began to moan,
But still the night went on:
Through its giant loom the web of gloom
Crept till each thread was spun:
And, as we prayed, we grew afraid
Of the Justice of the Sun.

The moaning wind went wandering round
The weeping prison-wall:
Till like a wheel of turning steel
We felt the minutes crawl:
O moaning wind! what had we done
To have such a seneschal?

At last I saw the shadowed bars,
Like a lattice wrought in lead,
Move right across the whitewashed wall
That faced my three-plank bed,
And I knew that somewhere in the world
God's dreadful dawn was red.

At six o'clock we cleaned our cells,
At seven all was still,
But the sough and swing of a mighty wing
The prison seemed to fill,
For the Lord of Death with icy breath
Had entered in to kill.

He did not pass in purple pomp,
Nor ride a moon-white steed.
Three yards of cord and a sliding board
Are all the gallows' need:
So with rope of shame the Herald came
To do the secret deed.

We were as men who through a fen
Of filthy darkness grope:
We did not dare to breathe a prayer,
Or to give our anguish scope:
Something was dead in each of us,
And what was dead was Hope.

For Man's grim Justice goes its way,
And will not swerve aside:
It slays the weak, it slays the strong,
It has a deadly stride:
With iron heel it slays the strong,
The monstrous parricide!

We waited for the stroke of eight:
Each tongue was thick with thirst:
For the stroke of eight is the stroke of Fate
That makes a man accursed,
And Fate will use a running noose
For the best man and the worst.

We had no other thing to do,
Save to wait for the sign to come:
So, like things of stone in a valley lone,
Quiet we sat and dumb:
But each man's heart beat thick and quick,
Like a madman on a drum!

With sudden shock the prison-clock
Smote on the shivering air,
And from all the gaol rose up a wail
Of impotent despair,
Like the sound that frightened marshes hear
From some leper in his lair.

And as one sees most fearful things
In the crystal of a dream,
We saw the greasy hempen rope
Hooked to the blackened beam,
And heard the prayer the hangman's snare
Strangled into a scream.

And all the woe that moved him so
That he gave that bitter cry,
And the wild regrets, and the bloody sweats,
None knew so well as I:
For he who lives more lives than one
More deaths than one must die.


There is no chapel on the day
On which they hang a man:
The Chaplain's heart is far too sick,
Or his face is far too wan,
Or there is that written in his eyes
Which none should look upon.

So they kept us close till nigh on noon,
And then they rang the bell,
And the Warders with their jingling keys
Opened each listening cell,
And down the iron stair we tramped,
Each from his separate Hell.

Out into God's sweet air we went,
But not in wonted way,
For this man's face was white with fear,
And that man's face was grey,
And I never saw sad men who looked
So wistfully at the day.

I never saw sad men who looked
With such a wistful eye
Upon that little tent of blue
We prisoners called the sky,
And at every careless cloud that passed
In happy freedom by.

But there were those amongst us all
Who walked with downcast head,
And knew that, had each got his due,
They should have died instead:
He had but killed a thing that lived,
Whilst they had killed the dead.

For he who sins a second time
Wakes a dead soul to pain,
And draws it from its spotted shroud,
And makes it bleed again,
And makes it bleed great gouts of blood,
And makes it bleed in vain!

Like ape or clown, in monstrous garb
With crooked arrows starred,
Silently we went round and round
The slippery asphalte yard;
Silently we went round and round,
And no man spoke a word.

Silently we went round and round,
And through each hollow mind
The Memory of dreadful things
Rushed like a dreadful wind,
And Horror stalked before each man,
And Terror crept behind.

The Warders strutted up and down,
And kept their herd of brutes,
Their uniforms were spick and span,
And they wore their Sunday suits,
But we knew the work they had been at,
By the quicklime on their boots.

For where a grave had opened wide,
There was no grave at all:
Only a stretch of mud and sand
By the hideous prison-wall,
And a little heap of burning lime,
That the man should have his pall.

For he has a pall, this wretched man,
Such as few men can claim:
Deep down below a prison-yard,
Naked for greater shame,
He lies, with fetters on each foot,
Wrapt in a sheet of flame!

And all the while the burning lime
Eats flesh and bone away,
It eats the brittle bone by night,
And the soft flesh by day,
It eats the flesh and bone by turns,
But it eats the heart alway.

For three long years they will not sow
Or root or seedling there:
For three long years the unblessed spot
Will sterile be and bare,
And look upon the wondering sky
With unreproachful stare.

They think a murderer's heart would taint
Each simple seed they sow.
It is not true! God's kindly earth
Is kindlier than men know,
And the red rose would but blow more red,
The white rose whiter blow.

Out of his mouth a red, red rose!
Out of his heart a white!
For who can say by what strange way,
Christ brings His will to light,
Since the barren staff the pilgrim bore
Bloomed in the great Pope's sight?

But neither milk-white rose nor red
May bloom in prison-air;
The shard, the pebble, and the flint,
Are what they give us there:
For flowers have been known to heal
A common man's despair.

So never will wine-red rose or white,
Petal by petal, fall
On that stretch of mud and sand that lies
By the hideous prison-wall,
To tell the men who tramp the yard
That God's Son died for all.

Yet though the hideous prison-wall
Still hems him round and round,
And a spirit may not walk by night
That is with fetters bound,
And a spirit may but weep that lies
In such unholy ground,

He is at peace - this wretched man -
At peace, or will be soon:
There is no thing to make him mad,
Nor does Terror walk at noon,
For the lampless Earth in which he lies
Has neither Sun nor Moon.

They hanged him as a beast is hanged:
They did not even toll
A requiem that might have brought
Rest to his startled soul,
But hurriedly they took him out,
And hid him in a hole.

They stripped him of his canvas clothes,
And gave him to the flies:
They mocked the swollen purple throat,
And the stark and staring eyes:
And with laughter loud they heaped the shroud
In which their convict lies.

The Chaplain would not kneel to pray
By his dishonoured grave:
Nor mark it with that blessed Cross
That Christ for sinners gave,
Because the man was one of those
Whom Christ came down to save.

Yet all is well; he has but passed
To Life's appointed bourne:
And alien tears will fill for him
Pity's long-broken urn,
For his mourners will be outcast men,
And outcasts always mourn


I know not whether Laws be right,
Or whether Laws be wrong;
All that we know who lie in gaol
Is that the wall is strong;
And that each day is like a year,
A year whose days are long.

But this I know, that every Law
That men have made for Man,
Since first Man took his brother's life,
And the sad world began,
But straws the wheat and saves the chaff
With a most evil fan.

This too I know - and wise it were
If each could know the same -
That every prison that men build
Is built with bricks of shame,
And bound with bars lest Christ should see
How men their brothers maim.

With bars they blur the gracious moon,
And blind the goodly sun:
And they do well to hide their Hell,
For in it things are done
That Son of God nor son of Man
Ever should look upon!

The vilest deeds like poison weeds,
Bloom well in prison-air;
It is only what is good in Man
That wastes and withers there:
Pale Anguish keeps the heavy gate,
And the Warder is Despair.

For they starve the little frightened child
Till it weeps both night and day:
And they scourge the weak, and flog the fool,
And gibe the old and grey,
And some grow mad, and all grow bad,
And none a word may say.

Each narrow cell in which we dwell
Is a foul and dark latrine,
And the fetid breath of living Death
Chokes up each grated screen,
And all, but Lust, is turned to dust
In Humanity's machine.

The brackish water that we drink
Creeps with a loathsome slime,
And the bitter bread they weigh in scales
Is full of chalk and lime,
And Sleep will not lie down, but walks
Wild-eyed, and cries to Time.

But though lean Hunger and green Thirst
Like asp with adder fight,
We have little care of prison fare,
For what chills and kills outright
Is that every stone one lifts by day
Becomes one's heart by night.

With midnight always in one's heart,
And twilight in one's cell,
We turn the crank, or tear the rope,
Each in his separate Hell,
And the silence is more awful far
Than the sound of a brazen bell.

And never a human voice comes near
To speak a gentle word:
And the eye that watches through the door
Is pitiless and hard:
And by all forgot, we rot and rot,
With soul and body marred.

And thus we rust Life's iron chain
Degraded and alone:
And some men curse, and some men weep,
And some men make no moan:
But God's eternal Laws are kind
And break the heart of stone.

And every human heart that breaks,
In prison-cell or yard,
Is as that broken box that gave
Its treasure to the Lord,
And filled the unclean leper's house
With the scent of costliest nard.

Ah! happy they whose hearts can break
And peace of pardon win!
How else may man make straight his plan
And cleanse his soul from Sin?
How else but through a broken heart
May Lord Christ enter in?

And he of the swollen purple throat,
And the stark and staring eyes,
Waits for the holy hands that took
The Thief to Paradise;
And a broken and a contrite heart
The Lord will not despise.

The man in red who reads the Law
Gave him three weeks of life,
Three little weeks in which to heal
His soul of his soul's strife,
And cleanse from every blot of blood
The hand that held the knife.

And with tears of blood he cleansed the hand,
The hand that held the steel:
For only blood can wipe out blood,
And only tears can heal:
And the crimson stain that was of Cain
Became Christ's snow-white seal.


In Reading gaol by Reading town
There is a pit of shame,
And in it lies a wretched man
Eaten by teeth of flame,
In a burning winding-sheet he lies,
And his grave has got no name.

And there, till Christ call forth the dead,
In silence let him lie:
No need to waste the foolish tear,
Or heave the windy sigh:
The man had killed the thing he loved,
And so he had to die.

And all men kill the thing they love,
By all let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

'What do you call a woman...' From Billie Jean to Jolene, Esme Patterson gives voice to the women of popular songs

Well, my Daily Carlo project, whereby I blog every single day, has been going absolutely brilliantly, with blog posts every single day since the end of February, if the only days that we've had since the end of February have been March 2, March 17 and March 20.

So as long as we exclude a few rare exceptions/overwhelming majority of days, I've been totally solid.... and who the fuck am I kidding? I have failed you all, loyal readers. I am so sorry! I promised you daily posts and have utter failed to deliver. I feel terrible and take full responsibility for my failure.

And I know I've let you down terribly and have no right whatsoever to ask for your forgiveness... but please, PLEASE, PLEASE! I beg you, beloved readers, please give me ONE MORE chance! I promise I'll change! I PROMISE! I LOVE YOU! Please don't go... please... I'm quite lonely...

My point is, I know how important I am in your lives, delivering, as I do, the far-from-latest, hardly up-to-date news in obscure folk or country or Tom Waits-related areas of popular music, but in a totally inconsistent and random fashion. It's wrong to deny you this, I can see that now.

But at least I do know a key rule of blogging is be short, sharp and to the point, and also that I refuse to follow the rules. So starting with that rambling introduction, I will, eventually, via a strange ranting detour, get to my point: which is to highlight Esme Patterson's Woman to Woman album dedicated to giving voice to the female characters in popular music.

Esme Patterson.

From an angry Billie Jean, to an indifferent Jolene, to an Eleanor Rigby who is actually perfectly happy with her life alone, Patterson has written songs that allow the women written about by others, to tell their side of the story.

Sick of such women characters being reduced to one-dimensional props for others to comment on, Patterson has responded with a series of "answer" songs where they sing back.

I first came across Patterson as a result of her work co-writing and co-singing several tracks on the latest album by Texas country singer Shakey Graves, most notably on Dearly Departed. (I had the sheer pleasure of seeing Shakey live in Sydney last month when he opened for the unspeakably glorious country husband-and-wife duo Shovels and Rope.)

'You and I both know that the house is haunted...' Shakey Graves with Esme Patterson.

Among other things, the Colorado-based Patterson is known as a leading figure in the very unfortunately-named "folk'n'roll" scene. Yeah "folk'n'roll", I cringe just to see that phrase even written.

So before I even get to the songs in question... what the fuck is with the insistence on the world to impose ever more ridiculous labels onto popular music??? Among other things, I have described Patterson, Shakey and Shovels and Rope as all country acts, and deliberately, even though they are all more likely to be called "folk'n'roll", "Americana" or "", in no particular order, and why???

And why the fuck do I even want to *keep living* in a world where all the fucking decent country music acts are syphoned off into stupid and offensive labels like "alt. country" or "Americana" just to pander to the prejudices of ignorant people who hear "country" and think of rednecks in stupid hats who, when they are not called "Garth Brooks" are singing songs with titles like "Achy Breaky Heart" ... I mean FUCK!!!

It drives me insane. The stuff they call "alt. country" is just fucking country! The utterly ridiculous over-produced saccharine shit that comes out of the Nashville establishment should be called ""! It sure as hell has nothing to do with the real, living country music tradition and none of these empty, commercialised over-produced labels or stations would dream these days of ever releasing of playing anything as haunting or raw as country legend Hank Williams' "Alone And Forsaken".

'Alone and forsaken by fate and by man...' Makes Ian Curtis sound like Julie Andrews singing 'These Are a Few of My Favourite Things'.

But NO!!! No we live in a world were people need fucking Hollywood to produce a fucking biopic starring Joaquin Phoenix fucking TELL THEM it is OK to like an act as brilliant and cool as Johnny Cash!

'I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down ...' We live in a world so fucked an entire generation needs Hollywood to tell them it is OK to listen to someone as cool Johnny Cash! And people wonder why I despair!

Where do people think rock music came from??? From a melding of all these popular music genres, a melding of country, blues, folk and jazz into a new whole... the earliest forms of what is considered rock'n'roll, by the likes of Elvis Presley of Bill Haley, were called "rockabilly" -- in other words, it was considered, and in fact was, largely country music played fast!

Like all genres of popular music, country incorporates a wide variety of acts and influences, spawned all kinds of sub genres and has intermixed and melded with many other genres... It includes stuff that ranges widely from the horrific to the glorious... as all genres in popular music do.

Because more than anything, it is just one form of popular music, and the lines between one form and another are inevitably blurred. The line between country and blues is blurry, as it is with other forms of folk and what became known as rock. Because they are all variations on the same thing, the same chords and chord structures, the same verse/chorus/verse forms...

Country music, like other forms of folk (of which country is one), has a particular emphasis on story-telling, on using songs as vehicles to create characters and give them life, to use the stories to capture universal emotions and paint scenes the listener can relate to and empathise with, that can humanise the listener's own emotions and struggles... Which you might thing is an especially glorious thing to do...,

But obviously you'd be wrong, because everyone knows country is UNCOOL, country is crap, country is for inbred right-wing redneck white trash... and this despite the sheer brilliant, often groundbreaking and hugely influential quality of great country acts like Hank Williams or Patsy Cline or Johnny Cash or Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Guy Clarke, Townes Van Zandt, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle, Emily Lou Harris, Lucinda Williams, Alison Kraus, Gillian Welch, Neko Case, Gurf Morlix, Blaze Foley, Todd Snider, Corb Lund, Hayes Carll... and so many more.

BUT NO. Just turn your back on that! Not cool enough! Hollywood hasn't told you that you are allowed to like it! SPIT ON IT!!! REFER TO IT ONLY IRONICALLY AT BEST AND MOST OF ALL LAUGH AT IT AND MOCK!!!!

But I digress...

Answer songs. What Esme Patterson is doing is not new, by the way. Those who, based on ridiculous stereotypes and prejudices, might imagine that the most country music has had to say on the matter of gender is Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man",  would not know about Kitty Wells awesome "answer" song to a track by Hank Williams.

The song, "It Wasn't God Who Made Honkey Tonk Angels", was released in 1952, a full 16 years before "Stand By Your Man". In it Wells answers Williams' "Wild Side of Life", which was about women being led "astray" by the "wild side of life" and becoming "honky tonk angels" -- also known as "women drinking in bars".

Taking the same tune, "It Wasn't God" responded by putting the blame for men being unfaithful entirely ... on men themselves.

It's a shame that all the blame is on us women
It's not true that only you men feel the same
From the start most every heart that's ever broken
Was because there always was a man to blame

Following in this tradition, Esme Patterson takes well-known songs by a range of (mostly but not exclusively) male artists about women and writes a response by the woman in question. It is, as she explains in a interview, a creative and intellectual exercise -- it is a challenge to write in their voices to "humanize these characters".

This means the songs are not intended as attacks on the originals, as such -- you don't have to disown Dolly Parton and her classic "Jolene", for instance, to appreciate the witty, irreverent response Patterson has written for Jolene, whose attitude to the man Parton loves is, after all, unrecorded.

It also means that Patterson is not suggesting this is the only possible response by these characters... just the ones she has written.

Asked by how she felt about others considered the album to be a feminist work, Patterson responded:

I welcome that. It’s a noble word to be associated with. I took on this project mostly as a personal journey in songwriting, and didn’t have any big plans with where it could go. But I certainly identify as a feminist, and I’m happy to have the work that I do give strength to that cause.

The highlight is the angry, up-tempo guitar-driven response Patterson has Billie Jean gives the character Michael Jackson adopts in his famous track. In response to the singer's insistence that Billie Jean "is not my lover" just "a girl who thinks that I am the one, but the kid is not my son", Patterson has Billie Jean spitting back: "What do you call a women when she's lying in your bed?"

'What makes a lover from a woman that you've had?'

"Never Chase A Man" is a close second, with Patterson's Jolene telling Parton that her man is a sexist creep who's "always leaning in", and, bluntly: "Your man don't mean a thing to me."

'Men should be chasing you, never chase a man.' Patterson has Jolene give Dolly Parton some advice on how to treat men.

You can read Patterson's own explanation for what motivated her and what she was trying to achieve in a column she wrote for The Guardian:
It all started when I was in a hotel room in Spearfish, South Dakota, learning to play Loretta by Townes Van Zandt. I looked the words up and was copying them to my journal, and realised I was really reading the words for the first time ... 
Among other things, Van Zandt says of Loretta that she “loves me like I want her to”. Reading that line in that moment, I had a revelation. What if Loretta could tell her side of the story, what would she say? How would the story change? What does she want? 
That night, I gave up learning to play Townes’s tune and instead wrote a song from Loretta’s voice called Tumbleweed. Once I’d heard Loretta in this new way, I felt as if I was listening to a lot of the old music for the first time – and it inspired me to get to work. I wrote a song from the perspective of Dolly Parton’s Jolene, Elvis Costello’s Alison, The Kinks’ Lola, the Beach Boys’ Caroline, the Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby, Bob Dylan’s Ramona, Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean, the Band’s Evangeline, and Leadbelly’s Irene...
I believe that our experience is the only truth we can honestly claim – and to create this album, I had to reach deeper than my own life and into the stories of these fictional women, into what makes each of these characters human ... 
The key thing I realised writing this album was that I had never really known what some of my favourite songs were about. A catchy melody or an amazing singer takes the spotlight while the story being told takes a backseat. One aim of this project was to take an in-depth look at songs about women that I had heard hundreds of times before and to finally really listen.
Woman to Woman gives a voice to female archetypes shown one-dimensionally in pop music. The record aims to transform these characters into women, to make them human.