Field Reportings from Issue #63
HER AIM IS TRUE: To date, singer ALLISON MOORER has made art in spite of her difficult background, but her next record, Getting Somewhere, promises to draw on that troubled past. The album, due June 13 on Sugar Hill, addresses the death of her parents in a murder-suicide when she was 14. The track “How She Does It” was written for her mother. Another track, “New Year’s Day”, also seems to address domestic troubles: “Sitting in my swing set swaying to get away/Sissy says, ‘Don’t worry, it’ll be OK’/So we do what we always do, stay out of the way.” (Moorer’s sister is singer Shelby Lynne). The set was produced by Moorer’s husband, Steve Earle, and early indications are that it sports a tougher, more pop-oriented sound than her previous work.
GIVE THE DRUMMER SOME: For about a decade, drummer TIM O’REAGAN was the Jayhawks’ secret weapon. While the lion’s share of the singing and songwriting in that band rested with frontmen Mark Olson and Gary Louris (and after Olson’s defection, just Louris), O’Reagan was infrequently called to step out from behind the drum kit and smash one out of the park (for evidence, hear “Bottomless Cup” from 1997’s Sound Of Lies or “Tampa To Tulsa” from 2003’s Rainy Day Music).
To stretch the baseball metaphor a little further, it might be more challenging to maintain that batting average as a starter. It’s a trial O’Reagan quickly cops to as he prepares for the release of his self-titled solo debut, which arrives June 27 on Lost Highway Records.
“It is just a lot more added pressure than being behind the drum set, supporting the song. You feel a lot of responsibility and stuff,” he says during a break at his rehearsal space in Minneapolis. “But it is liberating, because for a long time I felt like I’ve got these song kind of bottled up. Now I have the opportunity to let them fly.
“I felt fortunate to have a song on a Jayhawks album, because there is that high bar of songwriting. At the same time, the more I got, the more I wanted.”
The songs that make up O’Reagan’s debut draw from scores of tapes he has amassed over the years, starting with his late-’80s tenure in the Leatherwoods and on through his stint with the Jayhawks, which began in 1995. “I have been putting ideas on tape, waking up in the middle of the night with whatever is going on in my head, thinking it was great, and then waking up and you hear how stupid it sounds,” he laughs. “I went through this horrible period of sifting through them and evaluating and keeping what was good.”
To record the album, O’Reagan mixed cuts he pieced together tracking the instruments himself alongside band performances. The guest list includes Jayhawks alums Louris, Olson, bassist Marc Perlman and keyboardist Karen Grotberg, as well as former Son Volt bassist Jim Boquist.
The results may have listeners wondering why O’Reagan kept his light under a bushel for so long. “I would have liked to have the Jayhawks as an outlet more, but I knew what it was going into it,” he says. “I sort of started out as a sideman and I kind of never broke out of that. I would like to have gotten more album time, but that’s just the way it is.”
Which leads to the inevitable question: What exactly is the status of the Jayhawks these days?
“That’s a good question,” O’Reagan replies. “I think it is possible we might do a show here or there for a specific reason, a benefit or something. The Jayhawks, I don’t think, are going to be doing a record again or a full tour again. We will be maybe doing one-offs. It is kind of in Gary Louris’ court….Everyone else is willing to do it. It was a good band, fun to play live. A great fan base that we were fortunate to have built up. The band was around for a long damn time. If nothing happens, it was around for seventeen years or something like that. That is long enough.”
ROCKETS’ RED BLARE: The title of the Bottle Rockets’ upcoming album Zoysia, out June 6 on Bloodshot Records, is taken from a particularly determined type of grass that withstands the elements and can overwhelm suburban lawns. So is this a metaphor for impending world domination for the hard-working band?
“No,” leader Brian Henneman is quick to explain. “It is just about how people who are totally different still get along, side-by-side. It is related to how everything works.”
To hear Henneman tell it, the latest configuration of the Bottle Rockets is working better than ever. “Basically, it is damn near a whole new band at this point,” he says of the current lineup, which features Henneman on guitar and vocals, Mark Ortmann on drums, John Horton on guitar and Keith Voegele on bass. “John has been playing guitar with us for a while, but he feels new. We have Keith, our new bass player, who has just changed everything in a good, good direction.”
Henneman sounds equally energized about the new album, which was created in Memphis at Ardent Studios, epicenter of Big Star’s ’70s work, the Replacements’ Pleased To Meet Me and other memorable recordings.
“I couldn’t think of a better spot,” Henneman says. “When I found out we could do it in Memphis, I was jumping for joy. I can’t think of any bad music that ever came out of Memphis.”
He adds that some storied equipment was available for their use. “We had the Big Star HiWatt amp. We could have used it at any time. But we ended up using tiny amplifiers…these bitty cheap things that sound like robots breaking down. The HiWatt was a little too professional sounding. But it was there the whole time. We tried using it, but it never presented itself as being the right thing.”
The band rehearsed the new material just enough to be, in Henneman’s words, “studio-ready,” then recorded the bulk of the record as a “live throwdown.” One track, “Align Yourself”, was cut with acoustic guitars and hammered percussion parts fed through an Echoplex, which presented a challenge for the Bottle Rockets’ impending touring duties. “We were like, ‘How the hell are we going to do this live? Are we going to have some kind of drum loop going?’ And then it was like, no fucking way! So we just turned it into…like Judas Priest or something.”
CANADIANA: For his tenth album, RON SEXSMITH has reunited with producer Mitchell Froom, who helmed Sexsmith’s first three major-label outings. Time Being marks the first time the pair has collaborated since 1999’s Whereabouts. “I had been sitting on this batch of songs for awhile, not sure what to do with them, when Mitchell called out of the blue,” Sexsmith says via e-mail. “I was concerned that the songs were a bit too dark…and I didn’t know if or how to proceed.” Froom heard a rough demo and was encouraged enough to sign on for sessions last August and November. Backing Sexsmith were drummer Pete Thomas and bassist Davey Faragher (of Elvis Costello’s Imposters) and guitarist Val McCallum. “It feels like there’s a kind of thread running through it,” Sexsmith says of the record. “It’s a little darker lyrically, but as it turned out, musically it seems quite melodic and hopeful.” The disc will be released in May on V2 for most of the world, and on Warner in Canada; a U.S. label is still in the works…
Zoe/Rounder recording artists the CASH BROTHERS are on a sort-of hiatus from their own career and have joined forces with fellow Torontonians the SKYDIGGERS to collaborate on a twelve-song acoustic effort, titled simply Skydiggers/Cash Brothers. The union isn’t a big stretch: Peter Cash was a founding member of the Skydiggers, and that band has included in their repertoire a number of songs by his brother, Andrew Cash. The record is available through Maplemusic.com….
Chemical City, the latest from Montreal’s SAM ROBERTS, arrives May 16 in the U.S. via Secret Brain/Fontana.
FILM FODDER: Moody instrumentalists FRIENDS OF DEAN MARTINEZ have been tapped by director Richard Linklater (Slacker, Dazed And Confused) to score his bound-to-be-controversial film Fast Food Nation. Based on Eric Schlosser’s expose of the McFood industry, the film features an eclectic cast including Kris Kristofferson and Avril Lavigne. “I don’t know exactly how much I can give away about the story, but it’s certainly a powerful film, shocking in fact,” steel guitarist Bill Elm says via email. “Luckily for us it’s a perfect match for our music, not to mention something that I’m proud to be a part of — there should be a few more vegetarians in the world after it’s released.”…
The soundtrack to Robert Altman’s big-screen treatment of Garrison Keillor’s A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION, due May 23 on New Line Records, features cast members performing a mix of Keillor’s compositions and some traditional numbers. Vocalists include Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Robin Williams and, performing “Frankie & Johnny,” Lindsay Lohan….
Crack In The Sidewalk, a brief documentary on 1980s roots-rock duo HOUSE OF FREAKS, whose singer-guitarist Bryan Harvey was murdered earlier this year, will screen at the Seattle International Film Festival in May or June.
ON THE HORIZON: Soul legend SOLOMON BURKE has been recording a new album of country-oriented material in Nashville with producer Buddy Miller. Emmylou Harris has contributed backing vocals….
A new TOM PETTY album, titled Highway Companion, is tentatively scheduled for release in July….
Bloodshot Records has targeted this fall or winter for a new disc by BOBBY BARE JR., who will play some shows this summer with his father….
JOANNA NEWSOM reportedly has been recording material for her new album with producer VAN DYKE PARKS, who also is working on a new solo album of his own….
Nettwerk Records tentatively expects a summer or fall release for the next BE GOOD TANYAS album, as well as new records from OLD CROW MEDICINE SHOW and HEM.