[Cover photo credit to Photography by Kevin Wells]
The Neal Casal Music Foundation / Royal Potato Family have released a track by Neal Casal that has previously not made its way to the public in an official capacity, titled “Cora Jones – A Christmas Ballad”. It was written and recorded in the early 1990s when Casal was inspired by a local tragedy to create something meditative.
In the early 1990s, Neal Casal spent much of his free time on outdoor adventures with his close friends Eric and Libby McDonald near their house in rural Wisconsin. It was an idyllic time that was sadly broken by the kidnapping and murder of a 12-year old local girl, Cora Jones. The community was devastated by this awful event and Casal was particularly affected to think such horror could randomly come to this special place he loved to visit. He was moved to write “Cora Jones” as a tribute to her and what he learned about her short life.
Adapting the vocal melody from one of his favorite songs, The Byrds’ version of Woody Guthrie’s depression-era ballad “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos),” Casal recorded the song in 1998 at Studio City in Van Nuys, CA with Jim Scott Producing, Greg Leisz playing bass and pedal steel, Don Heffington on drums and John Ginty on piano.
Written from the perspective of the narrator during Christmas season, on the outro of the song, the musicians drift into the melody of “Silent Night,” while right before the session was completed, Jim Scott had the last minute idea to call in his friend, opera singer Juliana Gondek, to sing over that section. Casal considered the outcome one of his greatest songs.
While versions of the song have made their way out over the years, “Cora Jones” has never before been officially released. It was completed in the summer of 2022 with a new mix by Jim Scott from the original analog master tape and is now available via the Neal Casal Music Foundation / Royal Potato Family.