“I was raised in the Pentecostal church, and music is a huge part of their services. My great-grandparents had lots of weird records lying around their house, from traveling preachers and musical acts that had passed through town back in the ’50s and ’60s. The revival circuit used to be a big deal back then, and probably still is, if you know where to look.”
“As an adult, I’ve held onto limited-run oddities my grandma passed along, like Evelyn Evans’ Whistling Solos (wherein Ms. Evans—”the whistling lady of Western Michigan”—warbles her way through hymns atop schmaltzy church organ accompaniment) and the Four Galileans’ Gospel Fiesta (which was recorded at RCA in Nashville, and actually features Jerry Reed on guitar), and they’ll always remind me of the strange cast of characters I encountered in the church as a kid—some kind, some cruel, some downright bizarre…and some damn fine musicians among them.
While I’m no longer a believer, I’m still drawn to gospel sounds. Ry Cooder’s Chicken Skin Music and Paradise & Lunch albums (where he’s backed by those amazing vocal groups led by Bobby King) have been an inspiration since I was a teenager, and discovering the Staple Singers’ early albums on Vee-Jay (lovingly reissued by Portland’s Mississippi Records label) was a major epiphany. More recently, Marty Stuart’s Soul’s Chapel album knocked me out with its spine-tingling harmony singing and stellar guitar-pickin’.
I’ve always wanted to pay tribute to that sound, but I never had the right song for it until I wrote “Crow” (from our new EP, “Pure Delight”). I tried to replicate the Staples sound on the demo, with throbbing tremolo guitar and layers of my own voice, but I knew I’d need help to do it justice on record.
Fortunately, we found Maelu Strange and the Brooks sisters, and they brought their authentic gospel harmony sound to the record. Our keyboard player, Daniel Walker (who also cut his teeth in church), seals the deal with his brief-but-breathtaking solo on the Hammond A-100.
Our friend Shane Tutmarc, a songwriter and Seattle native who now resides in Nashville, also has affinity for gospel music—see his mid-00’s band, the Traveling Mercies, for ample evidence. I asked him to share the lead vocal with me on “Crow,” to create the sense of two guys commiserating about their hen-pecked predicaments. This is one of my favorite tracks we’ve ever done, and I hope folks enjoy it.”