Lately it seems like artists are recording their own versions of songs that have either been previously released or have appeared on another artist’s album. So, as a fun new feature on ATC, I’ve decided to bring you our Who Done It Better reviews where I’ll compare two artists’ versions of the same song. I’ve decided to kick off our new feature by comparing the George Strait and Gary Allan versions of the Jesse Winchester song, “A Showman’s Life.”
A showman’s life
is a smoky bar
and the fevered chase of a tiny star
it’s a hotel room
a lonely wife
from what I’ve seen
of a showman’s life
The first verse alone paints a harsh, gloomy picture of the lifestyle that is often perceived as a glamorous one. Meanwhile the chorus finds the narrator almost regretting his choice to pursue his dream which was supposed to include pretty women, money, and good times but instead is having to deal with the “wear and tear” the lifestyle has taken on a “honky tonker’s heart.” This heartbreaking depiction of the lifestyle’s reality has been delivered in two different styles by George Strait and Gary Allan.
Gary Allan’s version was included on his 2003 album, See If I Care as a duet which featured country legend Willie Nelson. The production on this version is more traditional than that of Strait’s version as it contains plenty of steel guitar, fiddle, mandolin, acoustic guitar, and even a little electric guitar to give the song its throwback country feel. The nearly acapella introduction sets the haunting tone as Allan delivers a raw, emotional vocal performance that remains consistent throughout the entire song. As the song reaches its second verse, you hear the familiar voice of Willie’s as he delivers his usual vocal styling which consists of half singing and half speaking. Unfortunately the inclusion of Nelson as a duet partner is the song’s biggest flaw. His unusual vocal phrasing doesn’t compliment the fantastic vocals delivered by Allan and causes the song to almost sound like two different versions in one. However, Gary’s portion of the song is fantastic and one of my favorite vocal performances of his.
George Strait’s version is included on his newest album Here For A Good Time and features Faith Hill as a “special guest.” Strait and producer Tony Brown stick to their traditional roots as George finds himself accompanied by plenty of fiddle, steel guitar, and acoustic guitar, much like Allan’s version. However, the production on Strait’s delivery is more mainstream and a bit more radio friendly than Gary’s version. Strait’s vocal performance could possibly be one of his finest as his aged voice delivers the somber song with plenty of heartache and pain as if he’s singing about his own three decade career. The song is taken to a whole other level when Faith Hill’s backing vocal joins Strait during the second verse. Hill delivers an emotional vocal performance as her smoky vocal tone blend perfectly with that of Strait. I’ve tried my hardest to find any kind of flaw or dislike with the Strait/Hill version, but after several listens, I can’t.