“He did a show, and I was there with Andy Paley, Arif Mardin, and Seymour Stein—who got to meet Don and was like a teenager!” says Barnett. “We ended up being great friends. I sang a lot of his songs at the Opry, and he and his wife Bobbi would tune in. They were very supportive of me, and the first thing out of his mouth, when he introduced me to people, was always, ‘This is one of the greatest singers I’ve ever heard!’”
Gibson asked Barnett to consider recording an album of his songs, and on Nov. 11, Cracker Barrel Country Store will release Barnett’s I Can’t Stop Loving You: The Songs Of Don Gibson. The 12-song album, which Barnett produced, coincides with the 10th anniversary of Gibson’s death (Nov. 17, 2003) and will be available at all Cracker Barrel stores and online at the Cracker Barrel website and select digital retailers.
“It’s like a promise fulfilled—and like a dream come true, because he was such an enigma,” says Barnett. “He wrote some of the most-loved songs in country music, but he was reclusive, and very few people really knew him other than the ones who did early on in his career—and they were dying off. He stayed in contact with [‘Nashville A-Team’ musicians] Harold Bradley, Grady Martin and Hargus “Pig” Robbins, Keith Bilbrey from the Grand Ole Opry, and not many others.”
Gibson’s attendance at a Barnett show at Nashville club 3rd & Lindsley was “unheard of,” she adds. “He’d been in the hospital six months prior to that and was at the brink of death, but had gotten better and was doing well for about a year. We’d sit around and sing duets and talk music, and he stared writing again and wanted to do a duet album, but that never happened.”
But Gibson did express his wish that Barnett do an album of his songs.
“I’ve included all the iconic numbers, and ones that I thought work best for me,” says Barnett. The icons include titletrack “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” “Oh Lonesome Me” and of course, “Sweet Dreams,” which in 1963 became a crossover hit for Patsy Cline, whom Barnett famously portrayed in the musical Always… Patsy Cline; her version of Gibson’s 1958 country chart-topper “Blue Blue Day” features harmonies from Alison Krauss.
“A lot of people refer to him as ‘the sad poet,’” continues Barnett. “Chet Atkins always said, ‘He writes simple songs.’ He wrote simple lyrics, but they were absolutely profound--and really rewarding for singers, because they had so much emotion with room to sing, instead of four-minute songs chock-full of lyrics.”
Gibson, says Barnett, “had a lot to say in a simple way—and a big, emotional payoff.” His songs, she adds, “give me room to stretch out and sing those long, whole notes.”
I Can’t Stop Loving You: The Songs Of Don Gibson follows Barnett’s first album with Cracker Barrel, Winter Wonderland, from 2010.
“I had a great experience with them, and I’m happy to be working with them again,” she says.
She’s following the release of the album with three nights of A Tribute to Patsy Cline with Mandy Barnett, with the Nashville Symphony at Nashville’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center, Nov. 14-16.
Barnett is also featured on two duets with Ronnie Milsap on his forthcoming album Summer #17. Milsap, incidentally, had a 1975 No. 1 hit cover of Gibson’s "A Legend in My Time," which is also included on Barnett’s “I Can’t Stop Loving You.”
"Ronnie’s one of the greatest artists ever,” says Barnett. “He’s someone who has influenced me a lot, and I was so thrilled he asked me to be his duet partner. Not only is he a wonderful singer, but absolutely as wonderful and nice as he can be, and I was truly honored to work with him.”
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