Frank Black & Marty Brown: “Dirty Old Town”

On Frank Black’s 2006 Nashville album Fast Man Raider Man, a hidden gem features singer-songwriter Marty Brown joining Black on Ewan MacColl‘s classic “Dirty Old Town.” The duet combines two singers known for different types of music.  But the rock sound of the former front man of the Pixies blends well with the Kentucky twang of Marty Brown on the English song.

MacColl originally wrote “Dirty Old Town” for a 1949 play Landscape with Chimneys. Yet, the song about Salford, Greater Manchester, England, has become something of a standard in its own right. In addition to MacColl’s own recording, the song has been covered by such folks as the Dubliners, the Pogues, Rod Stewart, and Townes Van Zandt.

The gritty recording of “Dirty Old Town” by Frank Black and Marty Brown makes me wish they had done more work together.  Brown contributed in other ways to Black’s album Fast Man Raider Man, where Brown also played bass and provided backing vocals. They could have named their band “Black & Brown.”

Frank Black, who also plays under the name Black Francis and with the group Frank Black and the Catholics, continues to make music. Marty Brown, who made a comeback on America’s Got Talent, recently recorded Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love” and performed at the Grand Ole Opry.

Ewan MacColl, the folk singer and songwriter behind “Dirty Old Town,” wrote a number of songs including “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face.” He passed away in October 1989.  But the song about his dirty old home town lives on.

What is your favorite version of “Dirty Old Town”? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Ewan MacColl: “My Old Man”

    English folksinger Ewan MacColl, who was born January 25, 1915, wrote a number of great songs like “Dirty Old Town” and “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face.” One of his most touching songs combines his political work with a personal story about his father, “My Old Man.”

    In “My Old Man,” MacColl sings about his father. Socialist parents raised MacColl, who was born with the name James Miller, and their own activism surely influenced their son’s political work.

    MacColl’s father was a Scottish foundry worker who was blacklisted by most factories because of his union activity. In “My Old Man,” MacColl uses song to indict the capitalist system that can destroy human lives.

    In “My Old Man,” MacColl also reveals his fondness for the man who helped bring him into the world. But he also reconsiders his father’s life: “He abandoned hope and the will to live / They killed him, my old man.” And he sees the life as a warning that he can pass on to his own son: “And my advice to you, my son,/ Is to fight back while you can.”

    “My Old Man” is a tragic story and a touching song about fathers. I first heard the song during a performance by folksinger Charlie King.

    MacColl’s performance of “My Old Man” below was made for Grenada Television in 1984. It features MacColl’s usual style of singing while cupping his ear. The recording was made only about four years before MacColl died in October 1989.

    Leave your two cents in the comments.

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