Who Done It Better: "A Showman’s Life"

Lately it seems like artists are recording their own versions of songs that have either been previously released or have appeared on another artist’s album. So, as a fun new feature on ATC, I’ve decided to bring you our Who Done It Better reviews where I’ll compare two artists’ versions of the same song. I’ve decided to kick off our new feature by comparing the George Strait and Gary Allan versions of the Jesse Winchester song, “A Showman’s Life.”

“A Showman’s Life” is a superbly written song about the struggles of life on the road as a musician.

     A showman’s life 
     is a smoky bar
     and the fevered chase of a tiny star
     it’s a hotel room
     a lonely wife
     from what I’ve seen
     of a showman’s life

The first verse alone paints a harsh, gloomy picture of the lifestyle that is often perceived as a glamorous one. Meanwhile the chorus finds the narrator almost regretting his choice to pursue his dream which was supposed to include pretty women, money, and good times but instead is having to deal with the “wear and tear” the lifestyle has taken on a “honky tonker’s heart.” This heartbreaking depiction of the lifestyle’s reality has been delivered in two different styles by George Strait and Gary Allan.

Gary Allan’s version was included on his 2003 album, See If I Care as a duet which featured country legend Willie Nelson. The production on this version is more traditional than that of Strait’s version as it contains plenty of steel guitar, fiddle, mandolin, acoustic guitar, and even a little electric guitar to give the song its throwback country feel. The nearly acapella introduction sets the haunting tone as Allan delivers a raw, emotional vocal performance that remains consistent throughout the entire song. As the song reaches its second verse, you hear the familiar voice of Willie’s as he delivers his usual vocal styling which consists of half singing and half speaking. Unfortunately the inclusion of Nelson as a duet partner is the song’s biggest flaw. His unusual vocal phrasing doesn’t compliment the fantastic vocals delivered by Allan and causes the song to almost sound like two different versions in one. However, Gary’s portion of the song is fantastic and one of my favorite vocal performances of his.

George Strait’s version is included on his newest album Here For A Good Time and features Faith Hill as a “special guest.” Strait and producer Tony Brown stick to their traditional roots as George finds himself accompanied by plenty of fiddle, steel guitar, and acoustic guitar, much like Allan’s version. However, the production on Strait’s delivery is more mainstream and a bit more radio friendly than Gary’s version. Strait’s vocal performance could possibly be one of his finest as his aged voice delivers the somber song with plenty of heartache and pain as if he’s singing about his own three decade career. The song is taken to a whole other level when Faith Hill’s backing vocal joins Strait during the second verse. Hill delivers an emotional vocal performance as her smoky vocal tone blend perfectly with that of Strait. I’ve tried my hardest to find any kind of flaw or dislike with the Strait/Hill version, but after several listens, I can’t.


Filed under Who Done It Better

17 responses to “Who Done It Better: "A Showman’s Life"

  1. Hi, I found your blog via Country Universe.Gary Allan's version of this song is great, but honestly I think GS tops him; the vocals Strait laid down on this song are arguably the best of his career. I was wondering how his version would sound, and it was jaw-droppingly awesome.

  2. Love both George and Gary's music. But I think Gary takes top marks on this one. George and Faith's voice do mix together well, but Gary and Willie as two "old honky tonkers" are much more crediable delivery.

  3. I'm a fan of both versions, but like I said in the post, Willie Nelson's part discourages me from listening to Gary's version. I just don't like his vocal styling on this song especially while Gary is delivering one of his best vocals. The Strait version is just pure brilliance from start to finish, in my opinion.

  4. Maybe the answer is, neither. Buddy Miller’s version is superior to both?

    • donner

      yes! thank you.

    • Duane

      Buddy Miller and Emmylou Harris together take this song to another level. I love George Strait and Faith Hill too but when Emmylou joins in with Buddy some magic happens. Gary Allan does a decent job but I also don’t care for Willie’s phrasing on this one.

  5. i’m not always of this opinion, but in this case, the answer is unequivocably:

    the guy who wrote it. Jesse Winchester. NOBODY sings like that guy.

    • Launchcast Refugee

      Seems funny to me that only one post, for the obvious, Jesse Winchester. To even consider the other two, without Jesse in the mix, the question is not even worth considering. To everyone that might read this, take a minute, listen to a little Jesse- your life just got better!

  6. I didn’t even know anyone else did it other than Gary. I love George but Gary’s version is AWESOME.

  7. justin

    King George delivers the vocals but Gary Allan’s version bleeds more pain and emotion. You can almost hear the the results of the smoky bars on Allan’s voice. By far my top three of Gary Allan. King George deluvered more emotion and pain in troubador.

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  9. Dennis

    Heard it at the Opry by Chris Carmack. He does a fantastic job.

  10. R

    Live Version tops em all.

  11. Daniel

    Buddy and Emmylou win hands down!

  12. Jimmie

    Buddy Miller did a darn good job of this song as well.

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  14. Buddy Miller’s version is the best. I think that is his wife [Julie] singing with him, not Emmylou.

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