In the late Sixties and early Seventies, John Fogerty was rock & roll’s Voice of America. On the five Top 10 LPs and seven straight Top Five singles that he wrote, sang and produced with Creedence Clearwater Revival from late 1968 to 1971, Fogerty recharged the scruffy, fundamental poetry of folk, country, blues and rockabilly with shredded-vocal passion, searing-guitar hooks and taut, incisive observations on the state of our democracy. The America in “Proud Mary,” “Lodi” and “Fortunate Son” was bloodied by inequity and rough justice, yet rich in promise and bound for glory, rendered by Fogerty with a reporter’s concision and a dreamer’s conviction.
Wrote a Song for Everyone is a testament to the continuing truth and power in Fogerty’s greatest hits. For this album, he has recut a dozen classics, most from the Creedence era, in dynamic collaborations with an astute cast of younger stars and kindred voices including Bob Seger, My Morning Jacket, Keith Urban, Miranda Lambert and Foo Fighters. The result is some of the best new music Fogerty has made since, well, Creedence. His singing is strong and engaged, even scalding when he goes up against Kid Rock in “Born on the Bayou,” and the current state of Fogerty’s guitar playing is summed up in his shootout with country picker Brad Paisley in “Hot Rod Heart,” from 1997’s Blue Moon Swamp. The twang flies clean and fast, as Fogerty answers Paisley’s staccato flash and whip-curl flourishes with a bracing-treble fusion of James Burton, Carl Perkins and George Harrison.
Looking back at these songs, in this company, has brought out a fire and nerve in Fogerty. He sounds as renewed in these performances as the riffs and stories. With the Foos, in a roaring “Fortunate Son,” Fogerty – who was drafted during the Vietnam War and spent time in the Army Reserve – trades verses with Dave Grohl with extra, howling ire, like he can’t believe the mess in Iraq and Afghanistan, made at the same dear cost. Fogerty revisits the country-dance party “Almost Saturday Night,” from 1975’s John Fogerty, with the real stuff: Urban’s tangy banjo work and saloon-brother harmonizing. And in a bold choice, Seventies-California revivalists Dawes help Fogerty resurrect a fine, lost ballad – “Someday Never Comes,” from Creedence’s last LP, 1972’s Mardi Gras – with a poignant twist. Fogerty based the song on a painful childhood conversation he had with his father. Here, in the opening verse, Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith is the plaintive, questioning son; Fogerty plays the elder with the darker voice, dispensing the tough wisdom.
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Most duet projects are awkward, unfulfilling affairs, as if the tunes and pairings were picked and cut at gunpoint. “Proud Mary” – too literally taken to New Orleans in an arrangement conducted by Allen Toussaint – is the only miscalculation here, and that’s because Ike and Tina Turner own the song’s mighty-water soul now. In fact, much of Wrote a Song is just a real good time, especially the country action: the Paisley and Urban tracks; the obvious fun Fogerty and Zac Brown Band have with the jaunty warning of “Bad Moon Rising.”
Fogerty, who arranged and produced the album, also has a sharp ear for emotional harmony. Seger’s appearance in “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” from 1970’s Cosmo’s Factory, is a revealing match. The two road soldiers share the chorus in weathered empathy, to a Silver Bullet Band-style arrangement that makes you wonder if Seger used to cover the song at Michigan club gigs. Fogerty lets My Morning Jacket bend another Cosmo‘s song, “Long as I Can See the Light,” to their drowsy-country ways – it fits them, and him, like a ranch hand’s glove.
Fogerty’s smartest leap of faith is in the title song, from 1969’s Green River: He gives half of it to country spitfire Lambert. Fogerty wrote the song in the thick of Creedence insanity (they put out three albums that year), as the cost to his home life mounted. Lambert counters his irony (“Wrote a song for everyone/And I couldn’t even talk to you”) with wounded but warming poise, as if she’s trying to meet that frustration halfway. Tom Morello’s sudden whooping-spirals of lead guitar actually sound like a success gone out of control. Then Fogerty and Lambert go back to the harder, quiet work of truce and comforting.
In a sense, Fogerty has been waiting a lifetime to have this much fun and challenge with his old songs. “All the miles I’ve been travelin’/Headin’ back to the light,” he sings in “Mystic Highway,” one of two new songs here. Creedence’s garage-rock purity and the pace at which they made their records left a lot of the roots and branches in Fogerty’s writing unexplored. The group’s bitter end and decades of lawsuits didn’t help.
There’s another volume lurking in this songbook. I’d like to see Fogerty try “Walk on the Water” with the metal band Mastodon or the tramp-band stomp “Down on the Corner” with a young bluegrass crew like Old Crow Medicine Show. But Wrote a Song for Everyone does not replace anything Fogerty did the first time around. It affirms the living history in his greatest hits – that of a great nation still being born.