May 2021 update: this was only the third instalment of our Cover Story series, one now stretching to around 70.
At the time, I was wondering aloud whether the place Iris DeMent had in mind when writing and singing about Our Town was her home town of Paragould, Arkansas, or Cypress, California, where she grew up. It was neither, as I seem to remember Bill Taylor pointing out.
DeMent based her song on some back-of-beyond Oklahoma dump whose inhabitants deserved better. I cannot find trace of the name of the town - maybe towns - that inspired her but this was how she described it in an NPR interview:
"I remember passing through this little town that was your typical dead town there in the Midwest, a lot of boarded-up windows, little white buildings with peeling paint, all the life had gone right on out of it.
"And that was the first time in my life that I felt a song coming on like it wasn't just me trying to make something happen."
On the other hand, there was never much doubt that when Kate Rusby applied her Yorkshire accent to the same song, she was talking about Barnsley. I loved both versions, leaning slightly towards Kate's, but others will and do disagree ...
But even that sarky putdown, way back in 1993, was in the context of a positive review. I had found, against my own expectation, much to admire in her album Infamous Angel.
DeMent, I concluded, suggested "a likeably unpretentious woman who can write with affection about real people and places, and think up real tunes".
One such song and tune was Our Town and that is the subject of this instalment of the new Salut! Live series, Cover Story. Put simply, do we prefer DeMent's superb original or the cover, also superb, by Kate Rusby?
[I wrote in 2017 that] I could and should research more deeply but have never been sure whether DeMent's simple tribute to her home town was inspired by Paragould, Arkansas, where she was born, or Cypress, California, where she grew up. The answer, incomplete, is in my introduction to this item.
Rusby, on the other hand, can only be singing - surely - about her beloved Barnsley. She makes it sounds as if she wrote it.
If I am honest, I am torn. DeMent's rendition of her own song tugs at the heart strings. There is nothing to fault.
But then Rusby would tear at the heart strings if she put the South Yorkshire yellow pages to music.
The YouTube audience heavily favours DeMent - [now] approaching five million visits against 500,000 or so for Rusby.
So I shall sit on the fence [the 2021 update is that I very slightly favour Rusby]. Two fabulous versions of the same wonderful song. Feel free to say what you feel.