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Gretchen Peters' The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury swaggers (“Leavin' Kentucky”) and sways (the title track) with compelling immediacy (“Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)”). The album spotlights her primary songwriting influence.
“I think of Mickey as the country version of Leonard Cohen,” the longtime Nashville resident says. “He has very Cohenesque verses in his songs. Those are the ones that really drew me to them for this record that I made. I think Mickey's in the top three pure genius songwriters in country music history.”
Alt-Country Specialty Chart: Explain how you found Mickey Newbury.
Gretchen Peters: I discovered Mickey Newbury in my late teens in the late Seventies when I was living in Boulder, Colorado. The country hippie thing was happening in the Colorado music scene with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Flying Burrito Brothers, and everything that grew up from that branch of the tree. I hadn't been exposed to that when I was a kid, but I found a guy who owned a little record shop. He figured out I was interested in learning about this. I'd go in there once a week, we'd go in the back room and he'd throw records into my hand. Newbury's records came into my possession in that process.
Describe your first impressions.
Mickey was a link between the folk music I'd grown up with and the country music I had completely fallen head over heels for. This may sound like a cliché, but the first thing that drew me into his songs was his deep well of sadness. There was something deeply moving and sad about his songs, and I've always been very attracted to those qualities. I identified with him on a very cellular level. I'm sure I couldn't put it into words then, but I've spent time thinking about it the past couple years as I've been doing this record. I think he had this vision of himself as an artist.
You obviously agree with the many who feel Newbury was underappreciated.
Yeah. People who know about Mickey know how great he was, but I do feel sad that he's not really given his due in Nashville outside a small coiterie of songwriters and musicians. Honestly, they're from an older generation now. I'm sure a lot is that Mickey left Nashville (and moved to Oregon at the height of his success). Also, Mickey rejected what Nashville was about and I don't think that sat well with a lot of people. However, everybody who knows anything about country music will acknowledge what a brilliant songwriter he was. He's in the Nashville Songwriter's Hall of Fame.
Describe how this record finally took shape.
I had been thinking about doing an album of Mickey's songs for about fifteen years. I just said, “It's now or never.” I realized concurrently that Cinderella Sound Studio, which is the studio where Mickey recorded all those great records from the late sixties and early seventies, is still a working, operating studio run by the owner Wayne Moss. Wayne played on those Mickey records and has all the Mickey Newbury stories that you want. Also, he's a renowned guitar player who played the famous guitar riff on Roy Orbison's “Pretty Woman.” I've taken people into Cinderella who I know would appreciate what went on in there, which is like a living, working museum.
Describe how the recording experience went.
We went in blind and it was magic. The place basically hasn't changed since 1969. The studio itself is in a converted garage in Madison, Tennessee. Linda Ronstadt recorded her first album there. Steve Miller recorded there. The list of people will blow your mind. There's gear and memoribilia from all those eras. In fact, Linda Rondstadt used the bathroom as a vocal booth, which I did on this album. It was the best room to get isolation on the vocals. I'm a big believer that places – especially studios – hold magic in their walls. Once I figured out that we could do that and we cut three tracks there and that we got something really great, I thought, We gotta do this.
Explain how you approached interpreting his songs.
I had to feel my way around interpreting Mickey's songs. I wanted permission to play around with the song structures a little bit when I needed to, and I talked with several people who know Mickey. I knew that he fooled around with his songs all the time because I listened to all kinds of bootleg recordings. He would take lines from one song and put it into another. He would change titles. Sometimes his songs structually were strange once you got down in there and looked, partly because he would produce a song on his own records more like a pastiche.
Must have been a challenge taking on songs by such an amazing singer.
He was such an operatic singer with an incredible voice. I had to get away from his records and sit down with my guitar and go, “Okay. If I had written this song, how would I have recorded it? How would I sing it?” I didn't lay down any parameters as far as which songs to do. They didn't have to be hits. I cut some of the later, folkier ones that he wrote. I found the songs that I identified deeply with and went with those. I have to admit that some of the more straight ahead country songs definitely were a challenge but turned out the best. My god, his singing was every bit as genius as his writing.
– Brian T. Atkinson
Artist: Pokey LaFarge
Hometown: Bloomington, Illinois
Album: Rock Bottom Rhapsody
Release Date: April 1
Record Label: New West Records
Artist Website: pokeylafarge.net
Label Website: newwestrecords.com
Album's Common Lyrical Theme: The man singing these songs isn't exactly the same man who wrote them. This album is about the story of who I used to be – Pokey LaFarge
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