Field Reportings from Issue #62
KEEP ON TRUCKIN’: Showing no signs of slowing down, the DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS release their fourth album in the past five years on April 25 when New West Records issues A Blessing And A Curse, the Athens, Georgia, band’s seventh disc overall. The album, produced by David Barbe and mixed by John Agnello, once again splits the songwriting between Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley and Jason Isbell….During the down time between records, Hood made a surprise appearance as a guest lecturer for the opening session of the University of Georgia’s music business certificate program. What the students heard might have been initially discouraging; Hood told them he has made more money from T-shirt sales at gigs than he has off of records. “There’s no reason to do this for a living except it being the only thing you can do,” he reportedly told the class. “Then you gotta figure out a way to make it a viable thing.”…Hood has also kept busy by producing Alabama band the Dexateens at Barbe’s studio in Athens. The set, tentatively titled Hardwire Healing, is due later this year.
WEST INTENTIONS: Los Angeles roots maestro DAVE ALVIN stayed within the borders of the Golden State for the concept of his forthcoming album, West Of The West (due May 30 from Yep Roc) — all the songs are penned by Californians.
“There’s no particular school or scene involved and the era is pretty much the 1950s to the 90s,” Alvin says. “I did want to showcase the wide variety of California songwriters and not just record songs by, say, Los Angeles singer-songwriters of the 70s or Bakersfield songwriters of the 50s and 60s. I tried to stay within the boundaries of roots-influenced songwriters…because the massive amount of rock, punk, pop and movie songs written out here would have been overwhelming.”
Multi-instrumentalist Greg Leisz produced the record, which was recorded at Winslow Court in Los Angeles (where Alvin cut his last album, Ashgrove, and the recent Knitters reunion set). “The arrangements run the gamut from electric blues to acoustic folk with some doo-wop, norteno and a little psychedelia thrown in,” says Alvin. So who made the covers cut? Brian Wilson (“Surfer Girl”), Tom Waits (“Blind Love”), Jackson Browne (“Redneck Friend”), Merle Haggard (“Kern River”, which Alvin had previously recorded for the mid-’90s Hag tribute Tulare Dust), and Jerry Garcia & Robert Hunter (“Loser”), to name a few. Shelved covers by Steve Gillette, Randy Newman and Lowell George will have to wait for a second volume, he adds.
The title comes from a ’50s-era book Alvin stumbled upon filled with contemporaneous writing about the settlement of California. “I thought that it made a good title for this project because it sort of defines California as being of the west, and yet separate and distinct,” he notes.
NIC OF TIME: Just as Swedish singer NICOLAI DUNGER prepares to release an album that could land him some overdue recognition in the English-speaking world, he has done an about-face and issued a set of songs recorded in Swedish — his first release in his native tongue.
The English album, which carries the weighty title Here’s My Song, You Can Have It…I Don’t Want It Anymore, Yours 4-Ever, Nicolai Dunger, was released in Sweden in 2004 and finally arrives in North America on March 14 via Zoe/Rounder. In February, Swedish fans observed the release of Nicolai Dunger Sjunger Edith Sodergran, which features Dunger singing the words of Finnish-Swedish modernist poet Edith Sodergran.
“It is much harder to sing in Swedish,” says Dunger. “Much more consonant. Hard, rough language. But I like it, though. It is a way with dealing with your home.”
Dunger traveled far from home, to upstate New York, to make Here’s My Song… with alt-rockers Mercury Rev. The singer says their styles contrasted sharply. “I am in a hurry in the studio,” he explains. “My other records have been more in a documentary style, putting up a mike and having a drink and just recording songs naturally.” Mercury Rev, by contrast, has a reputation for meticulously constructing a psychedelic swirl.
The resulting collaboration is a true fusion, by Dunger’s estimate. The songs, which were mostly recorded live (“I can’t do it the other way,” he claims; “I have a really bad voice when I am trying to dub”) are gracefully arranged around Dunger’s idiosyncratic vocals, but Mercury Rev’s sound is uncharacteristically stripped down and rustic. “My vision was that I wanted an album that was a little bit more produced,” Dunger says, “in that you have someone who takes music sound-wise and projects it in another direction than you have [been] before.”
Although almost two years have passed since the sessions, the distance has given him a different appreciation for the music. “My mother died just around that time,” he recalls. “It was not an easy time for me, either. My mother heard it all the time until she passed away. I couldn’t hear it, because it was so much around her. Now, when I hear some songs, I am very satisfied.”
CHICKS STILL GESTATING: The long-percolating new album from the DIXIE CHICKS is now penciled in for a release in April or May. Producer Rick Rubin was at the board. The sessions yielded a song, “I Hope”, which was recorded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and released as a downloadable track at most of the major online services, with proceeds going to charity.
SMOG ORBIT: Get ready for the return of GOLDEN SMOG, whose new album Another Fine Day, their fourth release but first since 1998, is tentatively set for an early-summer arrival on Lost Highway. The Smog stable for this disc, which was recorded in Spain and Minneapolis, included Gary Louris, Marc Perlman, Dan Murphy, Kraig Johnson and Jeff Tweedy….
Lost Highway also plans a late spring release for the solo debut of Louris and Perlman’s former Jayhawks bandmate TIM O’REAGAN….
Murphy’s longtime band SOUL ASYLUM has a new disc due this summer on Sony. The album was recorded with original bassist Karl Mueller before his death last year of throat cancer. Taking over on bass since Mueller’s death has been former Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson.
BLUE SHADOW: In a Town & Country profile of singer Susan Cowsill in ND #60, she spoke of her brother BARRY COWSILL, who had spent childhood years with her in the ’60s family band the Cowsills but had been missing since the New Orleans flood. Officials confirmed that a body recovered in December was that of Barry. Friends and family gathered for memorials in Barry’s two hometowns, February 19 in Newport, Rhode Island, and February 26 in New Orleans.
BILL COWSILL, the oldest sibling in the singing family, says he was “shattered” by the news. Bill has a distinguished, if unheralded, career as a roots-rocker. In the mid-’90s, he fronted the stellar roots-rock combo the Blue Shadows, which released two albums in Canada via Sony, On The Floor Of Heaven and Lucky To Me. More recently, he has run into some serious health troubles.
“I have had four major surgeries on my back within the last three years,” he reports. “I’ve had one hip replacement. Three months ago I fell down and broke my other hip. I’m just getting over that one now.” He also suffers from osteoporosis, degenerative disc disease and emphysema.
Many of his friends recently put together two live archival recordings to benefit the singer. A 2001 set features Bill Cowsill backed by Calgary’s Co-Dependents, running through covers and a couple of Blue Shadows nuggets. The other immortalizes a 1985 gig opening for K.D. Lang, with Cowsill and his backing group raging through an act focused — with Cowsill’s morbid tongue firmly planted in his cheek — on songs by deceased artists.
“People would always ask, ‘Do you play this song or that song?’ I got tired of saying I don’t do this song or that song. We just do dead guys. Just to keep them at bay,” he chuckles. Both live albums are available via Megatunes.com.
SOUND BITES: Toronto band the SADIES recorded a live album at their hometown’s music landmark Lee’s Palace in February. Jon Spencer, Jon Langford, Neko Case, Kelly Hogan, former Jayhawk Gary Louris and members of Blue Rodeo and the Good Brothers joined them onstage. The results will be released later this year….
Neo-gospel act OLLABELLE has signed to Verve Records, which has tentatively scheduled a spring release for the band’s new disc produced by noted guitarist Larry Campbell…
Slobberbone offshoot the DRAMS headed into the studio in January with producer Matt Pence of Centro-Matic…
JOHN LEE HOOKER JR. has signed with Telarc International and will release Cold As Ice on June 27. He earned a Grammy nomination for 2004’s Blues With A Vengeance…
Fresh off a new release plus a Christmas album, Philadelphia’s MARAH plans to hit the studio this spring to record their seventh disc….
The MINUS FIVE came up with a unique way to promote the recent release of their self-titled album. Fans who join the group’s mailing list (at yeproc.com) by March 10 can earn a unique prize: become the subject of a song composed by leader Scott McCaughey.