Recorded in Nashville and New Orleans, Wrecking Ball remains one of Harris' most acclaimed releases. Critics were mostly ecstatic, although Robert Christgau was a notable skeptic: He complained about "Lanois' one seductive trick: to gauze over every aural detail and call your soft focus soul." It's an interesting viewpoint, but Wrecking Ball perhaps demonstrates how starved the nascent Americana audience was for any aural innovation. Listening to it today, I hear it as a typically intelligent bag of songs selected by a singer with a great ear for material, and if the gauze may muffle the proceedings at times, it remains a landmark of Americana on the level of Lucinda Williams' Car Wheels on a Gravel Road or Buddy Miller's Universal United House of Prayer.
Along with Lanois, drummer Brian Blade and keyboardist Malcolm Burn — all of whom played on the record — and bassist Jim Wilson, Harris will perform Wrecking Ball in its entirety tonight at Nashville's Marathon Music Works. The Cream caught up with the great singer after she had returned to Nashville after a series of dates on the West Coast. She remains active — last year's full-length, Hard Bargain, found Harris working with producer Jay Joyce on a set of songs that peaked with her version of Ron Sexsmith's title track, and she has a new collaboration with longtime associate Rodney Crowell set for release early next year. Harris is a warm, intelligent interview subject, and wears her legendary status without affectation.
While Toth, Traver and their bandmates have done an impeccable job of defining and executing their vision, Toth insists that they have much to learn on the production end. You can see for yourself — and if you attend the show on Friday night (see my Critic's Pick here, and our caption contest here) you’ll also see how the band is so conscious of its live tones that it essentially “produces” itself onstage. Naturally, though a full-length album is on the slate for sometime next year, for now the band prefers to work in EP-sized recording chunks so as to focus on quality over quantity in the studio. Toth, who charmingly refers to production in plural form as “productions,” gave the Cream a sense of the learning curve he’s been on from his high school days, through the time he and Traver spent in Boston reggae band John Brown’s Body and up to now.
First released in late 1973 as a Columbia LP, Ever Changing Minstrel is a remarkable record in many ways — for one thing, the crack band that Johnston assembled behind the unknown songwriter included Mac Gayden, Charlie McCoy, Kenny Buttrey and Jerry Reed. The music was post-folkie country-rock that featured Wilson's virile but wounded vocals and Gayden's evocative slide guitar, and the songs were rooted in the harsh economic reality Wilson apparently knew first-hand. “Pay Day Give Away” is a beautifully written account of various scams, from pool hustling to card sharking, but Wilson addresses the song to a woman whose man is falling prey to this trickery: “Card shark, dealing his mark / To a payday giveaway in the dark / Lucy Ann, your man has been out ramblin' / What will he be bringing home to you."
The Cream caught up with Johnston to get his take on Wilson's record, and to ask the legendary producer about some of his career highlights. At 80, the Texas-born Johnston remains a proponent of the merits of catching the unguarded musical moment. Coming from a musical family — both his mother and grandmother were songwriters — Johnston got his break devising a hit record for Patti Page, a Columbia Records artist who was going through a dry spell. Johnston produced most of Dylan's Highway 61, and achieved fame working with the great songwriter on such albums as Blonde on Blonde and Nashville Skyline. Fans of Nashville's wackier side may not be aware of Johnston's superbly demented 1966 full-length, Moldy Goldies: Colonel Jubilation B. Johnston and His Mystic Knights Band and Street Singers Attack the Hits — it's an out-of-print classic filled with absurdist cover versions of '60s pop and rock 'n' roll tunes. He has also worked with Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen, Joe Ely and Loudon Wainwright III. In recent years, Johnston has kept his hand in record production with a few low-key projects, and says he's working on a book about his experiences. Johnston is outspoken, not to mention plain-spoken, and he spoke to us from his current home in Southern California.
In prepping for the aforementioned feature, I got the chance to chat with B2S frontman Doug Martsch via phone. (On a personal note, I have to say that Keep It Like a Secret helped shape my taste in my formative years more than perhaps any other record — though Radiohead's OK Computer is certainly in the running ... I digress!) Martsch and I spoke about seeing his idols sign to majors, the making of their forthcoming record, writing shorter songs (and not-shorter songs), M.I.A, The Clash, The Halo Benders and more. Have a look below.
Nashville Cream: I think a funny bit of irony with you guys is that you’re known as one of the cornerstone indie rock bands, but you’ve been with Warner Brothers, one of the biggest labels there is, for something like 15 years. How is it that you guys have been able to maintain that sort of consistency and affiliation for so long without any shake-ups?
Doug Martsch: Well, I think maybe people consider us indie rock because we’ve never really had any hits or made any kind of mainstream impression — we kind of run our band like an indie band still — and we never tried to do that stuff. And, you know, the way we tour — I don’t know, I guess that’s indie rock. The spirit of indie rock.
Born in Memphis on Aug. 25, 1953, Duren began playing in bands in his teens. As were the other participants in the Memphis power-pop saga, Duren was influenced by British Invasion pop, and the budding performer began writing songs in the vein of The Beatles, Badfinger and Emitt Rhodes. He got his audition for Bell’s slot in Big Star through the recommendation of Stephens — the two had known each other since high school. Working with Stephens, Duren recorded demos at Memphis’ Ardent Studio in early 1975, and these caught the ear of guitarist and rock critic Jon Tiven, who had taken an interest in the Big Star story. Tiven brought former Rolling Stones manager and Immediate Records mogul Andrew Loog Oldham to Memphis to produce further demos for Duren, and Duren put together The Baker Street Regulars, a band featuring Bell and Stephens.
Duren’s 1975 demos are of high quality — they’re melodic, sophisticated and very catchy. “Grow Yourself Up” and “Andy, Please” are idiosyncratically constructed, but lack the neurosis of Big Star’s recordings. Duren went to New York in 1977 to record Are You Serious? (released in England on the London label as Staring at the Ceiling) for Tiven’s fledgling Big Sound label, and toured the Northeast before cutting the equally accomplished Idiot Optimism, which is up there with Radio City as an addictive, intelligent and compelling power-pop statement. (Recorded in 1978 and 1979, Idiot Optimism was finally released in 1999.)
Nashville Cream: For those who don’t know the story, how was it that you came to donate money to Planned Parenthood in Sarah Palin’s name?
Gretchen Peters: It was the night Sarah Palin debated Joe Biden. I got a call late that night from my booking agent, and she said, “Did you see what’s happened?” And I had no idea what she was talking about, but apparently Sarah Palin walked out on the podium to my song, to “Independence Day,” as her rallying cry. It wasn’t the first use of the song, obviously — or misuse I should say — by the Republican party or the right wing or any political faction for that matter. Although I’d never heard of anybody on the other side doing that. But it was, I guess, the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. I started to realize that probably there were a lot of people that thought that that really was a song about politics or patriotism or something like that, and that really got under my skin, because, of course, that’s not what it’s about.
Nashville Cream: What year did you start playing shows around town? Was it 2010?
Rayland Baxter: Yeah. The summer of 2010 was like my first gig at 3rd & Lindsley. I played with Natalie Prass, I think, and Gabe Kelley. That was when it began.
Born in LaGrange, Ga., in 1937, Moman went to Memphis in 1951, and began his career playing guitar for rockabilly singer Warren Smith, who is remembered today for his 1956 Sun Records single "Ubangi Stomp." Toward the end of the decade, Moman went to California with Johnny and Dorsey Burnette — the brothers had made noise as part of the famed Memphis rockabilly group The Rock 'n' Roll Trio — and honed his guitar and production skills while playing demos at such studios as Los Angeles’ Gold Star, which would gain fame in the next decade as the site of Phil Spector’s recording sessions.
Returning to Memphis in 1959, Moman began working with Jim Stewart and Stewart’s sister, Estelle Axton. Stewart and Axton had started recording in Brunswick, Tenn., and called their fledgling label Satellite Records. Moman co-wrote and played guitar on a song titled "Fool for Love," a 1959 Satellite single by The Veltones. When Satellite decided to move its operations to Memphis, Moman and songwriter Paul Richey scouted locations in black Memphis neighborhoods, and settled on the old Capitol Theater for its new base of operations.
SW editor Chris Kornelis was on the phone for DM and JW's chat, and he also managed to sneak in a couple of questions there at the end — including this bit, in which Kornelis asks White about his personal relationship with God, or "God," or "god," or whatever you want to call that. Anyway, certainly White's most interesting interview since he sat down with Marc Maron.
Nashville Cream: You’ve worked with Wes Anderson on all of his films other than Bottle Rocket? Is that right?
Randall Poster: Yeah, Bottle Rocket, I got involved with him. I produced the soundtrack along with him and then we started working together.
NC: Well, he’s sort of known as being an exceptionally meticulous, detail-oriented type of director. How is working with him different than the work you do with, say, Todd Haynes or Martin Scorsese or David Fincher or any of these other directors?
RP: Well, you know, I think all of those directors that you named are some of the greatest directors of all time. And I think all, you know, have a very clear signature point of view and, and sort of, filmmaking obsession. And I think that the different or the unique element of working with Wes is that our collaboration has sort of run on from the first day that we met really. So, I would say what’s most unique about is just that we do a lot of work between movies. So as we start a film, we’ve already laid down a lot of the musical trail or the establishment of a musical framework or foundation. So that’s really the most, sort of, unique aspect of our ongoing collaboration.
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