Mel Street, Lovin’ On Back Streets

Lenny Kaye

By Lenny Kaye

on 01.03.12 in Reviews

It’s a truism that country musicians oft lead wildcard lives that echo what their songs imagine. Home wreckin’ and late-night honky tonks, passions unleashed and fidelities inned and outed, these slicings of life aren’t just lyrical flights of fancy. Mel Street lived his dark-side-of-the more than most.

Tales of divided selves and conflicted lovers

Born in Grundy, Virginia on October 21, 1935, he was named after the prophet Malachi, who in the last book of the Old Testament wonders “Why then are we faithless to one another?” It’s a question Mel would ponder in his many country hits from the mid 1970s, from “Borrowed Angel” to “I Found Heaven In Your Arms Tonight,” to the poignant title cut, which posits, “suffering hell through the daylight/ for the heaven darkness brings,” the classic country duality. His tales of divided selves and conflicted lovers are sung in a voice that has the depth of a George Jones, who moved from idol to friend in Mel’s life, surrounded by arrangements that echo the best of Nashville studio familiars.

His first hit was 1972′s “Borrowed Angel,” and for the next few years Street had many chart successes, most centering on affairs of the wayward heart. The cuts on this particular album are not original versions, but in some ways I prefer these revisits, the “burning bridges” of “Get To You,” and “I Found Heaven In Your Arms.” They seem to have an even greater depth of feeling, with keys lowered and tempos slowed in empathy with his all-too-real life travails. On his 45th birthday, in 1978, Street took his own life by gunshot. George Jones would sing “Amazing Grace” at his funeral, as Mel sings to us, now and forever.