For Dave Cobb's Southern Family compilation, contributing artists like Anderson East and Jamey Johnson hit the drawing board to craft new songs about the different ways familial roots grow on their side of the Mason-Dixon line. But for Morgane Stapleton and her Grammy-winning husband Chris, they looked instead to tradition, performing a version of the 1939 Jimmy Davis classic "You Are My Sunshine." The song premiered on NPR yesterday. (Listen below).
A key element to Chris's rich, emotionally complex melodies on vinyl or on stage, Morgane helps transform the song from a gentle children's lullaby into a mature, aggressive confirmation of their vows, laced together with minor-key harmonies and a backbone of down-and-dirty plucks of Chris's Fender guitar. Cobb keeps the production full of fiery fuzz with room for instrumental interludes, favoring raw and restless over pristine and perfect. The result holds a sultry burn that sparks unexpectedly, like the best enduring romances do. And when Morgane sings the last verse — where the tempo turns from sugary promise to an unveiled threat — she turns up the snarly smirk.
"Chris is a master, and I say this with all due respect, at messing things up," says Morgane about "You Are My Sunshine" and Chris's approach to cover songs. "He can take something so recognizable and turn it into something totally different where it's almost unrecognizable, in the best way possible."
Besides, "You Are My Sunshine" is more than just a song for the couple — it's a mantra of sorts, which Morgane had engraved into her husband's wedding band before they hit the altar. But don't be mistaken: she's not afraid to direct him in the studio, sentimental gestures aside, and at a recent session in Nashville recording "Sunshine," she noticed her husband was a little too tight on his vocal, a notch too fast.
"You're rushing," she told him, offering a drink to help soothe the nerves. "I'm going to kick you in the nuts." For better, for worse.
Southern Family is out March 18th on Cobb's Elektra imprint Low Country Sound.