Friend of no notes Alex Rawls alerted me recently to a new version of “SJI” that he encountered on the blog of the music supervisor for the upcoming HBO series, Treme. And mere hours later my attention was drawn to a comment on Robert W. Harwood’s I Went Down To St. James Infirmary blog, noting a new version of “SJI,” put together for Treme that had appeared on composer/arranger Blake Leyh’s blog. And yes, of course, it turns out Blake Leyh is in fact the music supervisor for the series.
There’s more in the way of information on Leyh’s Ten Thousand Things blog. The recording was made over the Christmas holidays and features Davis Rogan, one of the more interesting characters around New Orleans, and Tony Jarvis. “I’ve been interested in this song for many years,” Leyh writes. “It’s one of the most covered tunes of all time, and it’s resilience and malleability never cease to amaze me.”
The version they came up with has a great slow-build spooky opening, luxuriating in the melody and building a sort of suspense before the vocal comes in about halfway through. I’m not sure but I think that’s Rogan singing? Whoever it is, the singer is somewhat distant in the mix, but that works pretty well. The lyrical reading is traditional, and vocal delivery soulful but mostly straight, with maybe one flourish that (to me) nods to the Danny Barker version. The tone stays somber throughout, never turning the corner to jubilation. A nice take, all in all. And rather cinematic, really.
Despite Leyh’s connection to Treme, I don’t actually see anything on either site specifically stating that the tune will be used in the show. Although that’s what the comment on IWDTSJI indicates, and it would be very interesting, no?