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Retro Redux: Dem Bones Are Still Hangin’ Around

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The title of a news article from the Indonesian island of Bali triggered my musical memories recently. The story is all about how the efforts of bone smugglers have been foiled for the second time in as many weeks. It seems that there is a lot of money to be made on ancient artifacts — including old human skeletons — and officials have twice intercepted smugglers' attempts to get their loot out of the country.

The shipments were addressed to some intriguingly bogus names like John Wayne, Rock Hudson, and Robbo Hudson, but routine X-rays exposed the artifacts. According to customs official Bagus Endro Wibowo (who also has an interesting name), smugglers had attempted to disguise the bones by adding plaster and cattle horns.

All of which makes for some very interesting reading, but it was the title of the piece that originally caught my eye. It was headed up 'The Thigh Bone's Connected to the Knee Bone', an obvious reference to "Dem Bones," a song that seems to have always been around.

Sometimes called "Dry Bones," the song was originally a spiritual piece that was thought to be meant as a learning aid for children (although it's anatomically incorrect). It's attributed to James Weldon Johnson, a much-admired African-American writer, educator, lawyer, diplomat, and early civil rights activist. Although different versions of the song are around, the lyrics are based on Ezekiel 37:1-14, which describes a journey to the Valley of Dry Bones.

Musically, the song has been performed by many, many artists through the years. One of my favorites versions has always been one by the Ames Brothers (clip), a singing group that I've written about before. For a more traditional rendition, try the video below featuring the legendary R&B group, the Delta Rhythm Boys.

But no matter what your preference, it's one of those songs that is impossible to resist.

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