Photo courtesy of Doug Seegers
By Trevor Christian
In the past year, Doug Seegers has gone from homeless on the streets of Nashville to being the top-selling artist in Sweden by singing a style of country blues not popular in either nation for decades. Perhaps the only thing more incredible than Seegers’ story is his debut album, “Going Down to the River.”
Seegers, who was born in neighboring Setauket 62 years ago, beautifully wails tragic love songs and waltzes through blues tracks in a voice that any true fan of American roots music will instantly recognize as classic and soulful. It’s almost as if the only thing Seegers needed to succeed was the ability to draw on the pain of living in Nashville for 17 years, watching others make it big while continuing to fall short and battle addiction.
Homelessness is something Seegers takes on directly in a couple of his songs, including “Lonely Drifter’s Cry.” He sings of a “special girl” who could love a drifter even through his lowest points. In an album that’s old-fashioned but fresh, Seegers’ speaking lines on this track are one of the few moments that feel copied from the old times rather than reimagined. That’s not to say it’s not perfectly executed.
Addiction is addressed best in the title track, even if it never mentions the topic directly. Seegers talks about walking with the devil and needing to wash his soul before he winds up dying — themes that apply well to many a heartbreaking situation. It contains what is by far the best melody on the album.
“Pour Me,” a song centered on a play on words and on drinking pain away, serves as a great explanation for how Seegers hit such a low point. “Lucky him/Lovely her/Poor me,” he sings before requesting yet another shot. “Baby Lost Her Way Home Again,” the final track, is another noteworthy example of Seegers’ dark, emotional humor.
But it’s “Angie’s Song,” the first track, that may go down as one of the saddest and most earnest love songs ever performed. Seegers begs Angie to let him bail her out of jail and go to the liquor store for her, among other acts most of us would consider painful. His delivery is filled with personality and pain. It’s bittersweet simplicity is beautiful.
Still, nothing explains the quality of this album better than the relative weakness of “There’ll Be No Teardrops Tonight,” a Hank Williams cover featuring Buddy Miller. To include a track by a legend on a debut album is ordinarily a bold move, if not a wise one. But with a slate of original compositions as strong as the one Seegers put forth on “Down to the River,” it was almost necessary. If Seegers can outdo Hank with almost every song he writes, why not give the world an easy comparison to make?
The same logic applies to a duet with the incomparable Emmylou Harris, who seems almost comparable next to Seegers. Now let’s see how many awards he can win.