“Rock Salt And Nails” is the definition of a country music classic. While most people know the tune from Tyler Childers’ famed Red Barn Radio I & II album, the song has been around for much longer than Childers’ take.
Initially written by Utah Phillips in the 1960s, it has since been recorded by a handful of artists such as Waylon Jennings, Flatt & Scruggs, Bob Dylan, Willie Watson, and of course, Tyler Childers. One artist who has not put out a studio recording of the song, but I’d love for them to highly consider, is Billy Strings.
Strings has been a massive user of nugs.net streaming his shows, which is an excellent way for those who can’t make Billy Strings shows to tune into some of his bluegrass magic. Outside of his shows, he sometimes does little unplugged sessions for subscribers, where fans can see an unplugged side of Strings.
On one of these live streams in 2020, Strings put his take on “Rock Salt And Nails,” adding another great cover to the ranks. Sitting in a living room in Nashville, Tennessee, Strings mic’d up his acoustic guitar and put a bluegrass spin on it…and damn, it’s acoustic perfection. As a Billy Strings nut, I will like 90% of the tracks he lays down. Still, this cover beautifully keeps the integrity of the lyrics and the song’s melody while incorporating elements of bluegrass, making the composition true to his sound as an artist.
“Okay, Jimmy, I got this one for you.”
He says at the beginning of the video, dedicating the song to the viewer who requested the song.
While we often praise Billy Strings for his unreal shredding on stage, this track highlights his vocal talent. His smooth and confident delivery of the words strikes a chord with those listening, making you tune into the lyrics.
“On the banks of the river Where the willows hang down And the wild birds all warble With a low moaning sound…”
As Strings sings an expanded version of the lyrics compared to Childers, you can see that the song carries an even more somber message than the lyrics that Childers sings. Both portray a heartbreaking tale, but the added verse packs a punch.
“Now the nights are so long Lord sorrow runs deep And nothing is worse Than a night without sleep I’ll walk out alone And look at the sky To empty to sing to lonesome to cry.”
Billy Strings is one of the best artists of this generation, and little videos like this that have no thought behind them amplify his raw talent to the millionth degree.
Just for fun, because it’s so dang good, here is Tyler Childers’ performance that really put this song on the maps from Red Barn Radio.