Showing posts with label Kevin Broughton. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kevin Broughton. Show all posts

Jan 1, 2021

Kevin's Favorite Albums of 2020



 

~Kevin Broughton

What an awful year for America, and yet.

It was a wonderful year for independent music, and yet.

The year was spoiled by politics at the end. I speak, of course, of the phony hoax election shenanigans at this fake news satire blog site: Sturgill Simpson – who was totally honest about his FOUR ALBUM pledge until he wasn’t – hired a bunch of bluegrass ringers and re-released a covers album. Should his bogus record be up for current awards? No.

The election was rigged. I know this because my side didn’t win. I’d go on, but Trailer is chanting “Lock him up!” in the background. I know better than to take on fascism.

Anywho, this is the best year of music in the five years I’ve been privileged to comment for FTM. And I do mean privileged. This year in particular, I’ve interviewed some wonderful artists who made the best of an awful year. It’s been a great year for music in spite of the virus, and the vaccine’s gonna make 2021 even better. On to the list.

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15. Caleb Caudle, Better Hurry Up

Caudle went to the Cash Cabin to record his follow-up to Crushed Coins. The contrast is evident; the quality, enhanced.


14. Ward Davis, Black Cats and Crows

Davis played the Nashville game for a while, and now emerges as an independent tour-de-force.


13. Gabe Lee, Honkytonk Hell

An impressive initial wide-release effort. I’m looking forward to more of these haunting vocals to go with the poignant songwriting.


12. Great Peacock, Forever Worse Better

Warm, ethereal vocals and a mid-90s power-pop ethos. These guys make great records. I’m kinda waiting for a full Collective Soul retro thing to make me fall in love.


11. Ray Wylie Hubbard, Co-Starring

We should all celebrate the improbable signing by Big Machine of one of our godfathers. He celebrated with a star-studded triumph. Good for him. About time he got paid.


10. Skylar Gregg, Roses

Saucy blue-eyed soul from an authentic Tennessee diva. This album was a decade in the making; my money’s on another high-caliber offering inside the next two years.


9. Western Centuries, Call The Captain

Country music’s bi-coastal supergroup went to Nashville for their third album and emerged with yet another keeper. It’s an eclectic collection of often topical songs, done with nuance and perfect three-part harmonies. All they do is make great records.

Oh, and Dr. Jim Miller is the Official Lepidopterist of FTM.



8. Waylon Payne, Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me

When Texas Jonny Tyler told me, “That new Waylon Payne album is pretty good,” I thought, “’Waylon Payne?’ That sounds like a great pro wrestling name.” On reflection, (1) this album is damn fine, with sharp lyrics and a honky-tonk sensibility; and (2) the name of the album sounds like a stable of wrestling villains.


7. Hellbound Glory, Pure Scum

Sometimes I get the feeling we’re all part of a simulation, and Leroy Virgil is the only real human player in the game. Or he might just be Andy Kaufman-ing all of us. But under the guidance of Shooter Jennings, Virgil’s vocals are allowed to fully shine. Neon Leon, you’re my freaking hero. Even though you’re always drivin’ with the AC on.


6. Chris Stapleton, Starting Over

I look on Stapleton as the Miles Davis of country music. Seems like he can show up in a studio and just churn out high grade stuff. (Sturgill is a lot like that. But Sturgill didn’t release any new material this year. Did I mention that there was a RIGGED ELECTION that allowed for cover albums this year? Oh. )

This record dropped in December and re-ordered my top 10. Stapleton’s a beast.


5. Zephaniah Ohora, Listening to The Music

It was a high bar to cross, but Ohora’s sophomore effort exceeds 2017’s lofty This Highway. On Listening to The Music, Zeph channels Merle Haggard, both vocally and spiritually. I’m not sure what was more 2020 about the song “All American Singer: (a) that it’s genuinely courageous in woke America to say “not everything has to be about politics;” or (b) that some pussy at No Depression put Zeph on blast for NOT being political enough, smearing Merle Haggard in the process.


And by the way…by “some pussy at No Depression,” I mean the whole outfit, run by the hyper-political Grant Alden and Peter Blackstock, or whichever woke pansies are in charge of that shit site now. Zeph sang a song about avoiding politics. Shame on you for shaming an artist for not being woke enough for your standards. You guys suck, and are no fun.


4. The Wilder Blue, Hill Country

A late add to my list, but wow. There’s a lot of purity here in these harmonies and spot-on acoustic guitar licks. A half-dozen of these songs should be on mainstream radio right now, but what can you do?


3. Sam Morrow, Gettin’ By On Gettin’ Down

On making a record in such an insane year, Sam Morrow wanted his new album “to be a refuge from” a constant deluge of information and drama. “I just wanted to make a fun record.” Channeling Little Feat and Lowell George like no one has since the great one’s passing, Morrow does just that. Swampy, bluesy and with a tough swagger, it’s a heaping helping of American rock ‘n’ roll.

The boy kicks ass:



2. Jesse Daniel, Rollin’ On

America needed many things in 2020. At or near the top of that list is The Bakersfield Sound, and Jesse Daniel delivered both a faithful send-up and a high standard for others to meet going forward. Rollin’ On exudes hope, as you’d expect from an artist who’s emerged on the redemptive side of addiction. The best pure country album of the year.


His was the last real show I saw B.C. (Before Corona), and I remember how excited I was about Daniel’s future. At the turn of a bad year, I’ll emulate his optimism: 2021 is gonna be a great year for this troubadour.


1. Tennessee Jet, The Country

A cinematic masterpiece from a Renaissance man, Tennessee Jet draws on the likes of Sergio Leone and William Faulkner to craft his characters. This is literary songwriting combined with punchy production and execution. The crown jewel on an album of gems? A grungy, scary, 3 ½-minute movie soundtrack about the creepy death of Johnny Horton. And of all the covers of “Pancho and Lefty,” -- I’ll plant a flag right now – none equals the four-headed monster version here by TJ, Jinx, Elizabeth Cook and Paul Cauthen.

But seriously, this “Johnny” tune


Nov 24, 2020

Patterson Hood Mulls Temporary Peach State Return

By Kevin Broughton 

 Portland, Ore. -- After a chaotic and tumultuous four years – and an otherworldly 2020 – it’s only fitting that unbounded bliss can turn to crushing morosity in an instant. Such is the roller coaster existence of Patterson Hood, the Portland-based activist and political commentator who moonlights as the front man for the Drive By Truckers. 

Saturday, Nov. 7 was a joyous day by all accounts in the City of Roses. First CNN, then Fox News, and then all the other networks and wire services followed in turn: Joe Biden, they reported, would be the 46th President of the United States. Mostly peaceful celebrants rushed into the streets.

“It was beautiful, man,” Hood says. “Four years of fascism, finally over.” The Oregonian thought himself alone in his bliss, until that perfect moment when he found a kindred – and musical – spirit. “Kasey Anderson and I ran into each other. It turns out we were both throwing acid at the same Portland so-called ‘firefighters,’” he says. “Those dudes were f*cking with freedom-fighters who had mostly peacefully torched an Apple Store in celebration of Biden’s big win. I got the whole thing on my iPhone 12.” 

Jubilation became concern on multiple levels, to Hood’s chagrin. “Turns out Kasey’s on Federal paper and has an ankle bracelet,” Hood says. “Well, he said he had an ankle bracelet. I think it was a baby monitor, to tell you the truth. Anyway, he hauled ass when they made a curfew announcement on the loudspeakers.” 

Hood was undeterred, if now alone. And yet… 

“I joined up with some other freedom fighters, at the last Taco Bell before it peacefully went up in flames…” Hood trails off here, caught up in the memory of a poignant moment in Portland social justice history. He is a little weepy. 

“I got in line,” Hood says, choking up a bit before recovering his composure. “And person after person, be it he/she/xi/xxyx/cis, every one of us HUMAN PEOPLE said to Juan – so his corporate name tag said – YES, MY ORDER IS FOR A LIVING WAGE FOR ALL LETTUCE PICKERS IN THE CENTRAL VALLEY.” 

Hood isn’t shy admitting he enjoyed the sick burn. “I mean face it, what are corporatists gonna say in the face of that kind of truth?” Sadly, the euphoric social triumph would give way to realpolitik. Such is the duality of the Southern thing – Patterson Hood-style. 

“What totally freaked me out was that there was a whole other set of elections going on at the same time or whatever,” said Hood, who attended some college courses in Northern Alabama in the 1980s. “There are senate elections that happen, too. And there are some elections that happen in Georgia or whatever. And in January!” 

Hood – after reading the same story in The Daily Kos three times – grew tense. When he learned that two Senate runoffs in Georgia could drastically impact President-elect Biden’s agenda, he was at first cynical. “Typical redneck Georgia, man,” Hood said. “It’s just the same Jim Crow stuff: they make a Democrat win twice, just because he’s a black guy. This kind of racist shit is why I left Georgia after living there for like 20 years or something.” 

Yet rather than curse the darkness, Hood turned to a literary light. 

“Somebody turned me on to this guy Tom Friedman? He writes for the New York Times and magazines, too,” he said. “He’s like an expert, but still can deal with the common man. He’s interviewed taxi drivers from Athens to Rome. Which is perfect, since those are my two favorite cities in Georgia!” 

 It was a national television interview of Friedman that grabbed the fifty-something poet’s attention.    

 


“I mean, dude, that takes it up a notch,” Hood said. “This is serious activism! I thought my friend Topher in L.A. was owning the MAGA’s with his radical phone-banking.”

“I mean, I love the way my boy mimics that cis-white woman’s stupid accent, but you gotta give the nod to the writer guy,” he said. “Which is why I’m headed back to Georgia so I can vote for Rafael Warnock…and that one cis-white guy too, since he’s also a Democrat.” Asked if he had voted in Oregon, and if that might pose legal problems in the Peach State, Hood grew indignant. 

 “So f*cking what, man? I mean, you gonna buy into this Jim Crow myth of “voter fraud?” Hood snapped. “You’re telling me it’s against the law to go to Georgia to vote for a black man? It’s the most anti-racist thing to do, ever. Check your patriarchy and your white privilege, bro. Seriously. Besides, Gov. Abrams will pardon us all.” 

 As he gathered his things to prepare for his cross-country political odyssey, he took a moment to address a music-industry rumor about his band’s most recent political album. “It is nobody’s business whether President Xi and the Peoples’ Cultural Collective sent us a small donation to support our art,” Hood said. “Besides, you can’t prove it, and it’s a totally racist and sinophobic thing to say. Only a fear-mongering redneck from Texas would say such a thing. 
-- fake news

Nov 19, 2020

Chris Ligon’s Summer Vacation

By Kevin Broughton

For four years, Chris Ligon has been most widely known as the composer and lyricist for Chicago supergroup The Flat Five, who’ve given voice to his creativity and quirky, eccentric humor. We spoke with him last week in our feature on the band’s sophomore release, Another World, only to find out he has his own album release set for Nov. 20. 


How could we resist? Summer Vacation, ten tightly arranged, slightly kooky songs, tips the time scale at a whopping 23 minutes. And it’s everything you’d expect: delightfully whimsical musings, reflections and meditations. And in at least one instance, instrument and song title merge into a musical form of onomatopoeia.


Do you play and track all the instruments yourself?


Yes, I play everything and record in my basement. I'm not really a great instrumentalist but I teach myself how to play something then I record it and then I forget it and move on. 


"Bee Beard" sounds like a beard of bees would look; just some pretty basic keyboards. Whence the inspiration?


This one I played on a "Baldwin Fun Machine" from the 70's. I love the sound. I've always wondered about those guys who you see with 8 million bees all over their face like a beard. It kind of makes me sick really. 


"Hard To Follow" and "Diet Drink": are those pianos a tad out of tune? Maybe "God's Famous Heart," too? 


Yes, my upright piano is really out of tune, but I've learned to like it and work around most of the bad keys. Sometimes limitations will take you in a writing direction that you might not have thought of if you had all the greatest equipment. So, I'm a big user of broken down old instruments. Kind of like the Island of Misfit Toys! 


It's somehow fitting that "Evil As Evil is He," the one overtly political cut on the album, is a polka in a minor key. How did you pair that particular musical style with those lyrics?


I thought it sounded kind of like a Kurt Weil-German cabaret thing that was popular in the underground when Hitler was raising hell 85 years ago.


Nice. LOL. Finally, where can people find Summer Vacation? 


Summer Vacation is being distributed by Pravda Records. Hopefully it'll be available by next week at www.pravdamusic.com.

Nov 17, 2020

Ain’t Gonna Be Today: Five Questions with Ward Davis


By Kevin Broughton


Kicking off with a blaze of harmonized electric guitars sounding like when the Allman’s Elizabeth Reed checked into the Eagles’ Hotel California, Ward Davis’s new album Black Cats and Crows doesn’t waste a second on formalities. Out Friday on Thirty Tigers, the record is a triumph on all fronts. A muscly country-rock record filled with murderous story songs, heartbreaking vulnerability, and that unmistakable voice—Davis’s weathered croon, barrel-aged then left out in the sun—are all brought to life through Davis’s and producer Jim “Moose” Brown’s care for their craft and disdain for sterility.


Without listening to a note of Black Cats and Crows, the company kept in the liner notes alone—co-writers Cody Jinks, Kendell Marvel, and Shawn Camp—will tip off any discerning music fan on how respected Davis is as a songwriter. And his characters are relatable. “This is my coping mechanism. I know music is a coping mechanism for a lot of people,” Davis says. “It’s important that it’s crafted well, but it’s also important that it’s honest so that people can relate to it and get something out of it.” But it’s not just songwriters that have taken notice. Among the world class musicians who took part in the recording of Black Cats and Crows, a name not too often thrown around in the world of country music appears; Anthrax’s Scott Ian, who guested on the ominous murder ballad, “Sounds of Chains.”


We’ve said here many times that as bad as 2020 has been on so many fronts, it’s been a great year for independent music. Davis’s Black Cats and Crows – upon its Friday release – will keep that hot streak alive. It’s an outstanding country-rock album that will leave fans wanting more from this songwriter coming into his own. We caught up with Mr. Davis for a lightning-round set of questions, mostly about the writing process and the music industry. 


    Kevin: It’s been a couple years since we last heard from you, on your 2018 EP Asunder. Are the 14 cuts on Black Cats and Crows songs you’ve developed since then, or do some of them stretch back beyond the EP?


Ward: Some of the songs on this record go back 15, 16 years. Some are just a few months old. I spent 15 years writing songs every day in Nashville hoping a George Strait or Tim McGraw would hear one and cut it, but it never happened. It’s a scary thing to think about, all the great songs that slipped through the cracks in the pavement on Music Row. The ones I cut on here that are aged, are the ones I was proudest of when I wrote them. 


    KB: There’s a line in the chorus of the title song, “God must have it in for me, why He only knows.” Is that coming from a historical point in your own story, a metaphor for alienation and sense of unfairness in people in general, neither or a little of both?


WD: I mean, bad luck is bad luck. Hard times are hard times. Bad stuff happens sometimes for no good reason. I’ve had a lot of friends that aren’t here anymore for reasons that I can’t even begin to comprehend. A lot of different scenarios do a lot of people in. I think a lot of times we ask God “Why?” and He doesn’t give us a straight answer. We were just pointing that out. It might feel like alienation, but it’s a pretty normal feeling, most people understand. 

 

    KB: You have a lengthy and impressive list of artists for whom you’ve written: Willie, Merle, Sammy Kershaw and Trace Adkins, just to name a few. How is your songwriting/thought process different when you’re writing them for yourself?


WD: I honestly don’t remember how I used to write songs. I was always chasing the golden geese of Nashville. I was putting songs together like Legos. I stopped that about six or seven years ago. Now I just write when I want. Or when I feel something. Or when I need some therapy. I’ll sit down and write a song in 20 minutes, but I won’t write another one for five or six months. I don’t think I have a process. I think I just write songs with people who like to write songs with me and that I like to write with. 

 

    KB: Over the last two to three years, there’s been a slew of artists churning out quality, thoughtful, earnest music that in a sane world would have a natural home on country radio. Stapleton, Jinx, Tennessee Jet, Jesse Daniel…this album would certainly fall into that category. Two-part question: Do you see country radio ever moving back from the pop/bro brink, and if not, what is the path going forward for indie artists without terrestrial radio airplay?


WD: I hope they don’t change it. All that shitty music on the radio drives people towards guys like me. The path is, “Stay real. Stay honest. Be human. Humans are listening.” 

 

    KB: For those not familiar with your history, how deep into the world of Nashville co-writes and publishing are you, and regardless of future releases of yours, will that remain part of your livelihood? 

 

WD: I haven’t been a part of that world in over 6 years. I barely know anyone down there anymore.


 

 



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Black Cats and Crows is available everywhere you consume music this Friday.

Nov 13, 2020

The Flat Five: Another World, indeed



By Kevin Broughton


With their precise harmonies and pitch-perfect melodies, Chicago supergroup The Flat Five splashed into autumn 2016 with It’s A World Of Love And Hope, a wonderful pop album that exuded joy. Four years later, the band (Scott Ligon, Nora O’Connor, Casey McDonough, Alex Hall and Kelly Hogan) is back with its sophomore offering, Another World. While the shimmering pop sensibility and vocal mastery remain, The Flat Five navigate through darker, more serious themes, telling stories of a different set of characters synthesized by Chris Ligon (Scott’s older brother,) the band’s lyricist and composer. 


Oddly enough, the contrast wasn’t conceived of reflection upon current events. 


Another World, a tightly packed, efficient record (11 songs, 35 minutes,) begins and ends bubbly and bouncy – hopeful even. In between, though, there’s some emotional heavy lifting – imagine a series of “Sam Stone” sad songs, buoyed by lilting, uplifting melodies and vocals. This album is a mirror image of the band’s first…maybe a funhouse-mirror image. 


To dig into the wonderful, puzzling evolution between albums one and two, we first went back to Kelly “Leather Lungs” Hogan, our favorite resident of Wisconsin (“the northern South,” in her words.) The lady who compares her love of sad songs to a dog’s affinity for rolling in squirrel guts held forth on the sequencing of Ligon’s songs; how a musician’s life during Covid can resemble a blue jay repeatedly smashing into a window; and why The Flat Five may or may not be bellwethers of societal turmoil. 


Next, we visited with the thoughtful, enigmatic Ligon to see how his creativity takes musical form, and the symbiosis between his writing and the band’s spot-on implementation of his vision. 


First, Ms. Hogan:


We last spoke in the fall of 2016, and we both remarked on how crazy that year had been…


Oh, boy. Little did we know…


…and four years later, we have the second Flat Five record, when 2020 has been screaming “Hold my beer!” every other day. What the heck is going on with these quadrennial albums and national craziness?


We don’t dig it! (Laughs) We’re like “Why is this craziness happening?” Four years later, around another crazy election. We don’t know. We’re cursed! No, we’re not cursed, we’re blessed. (Laughs) We named the first record It’s A World Of Love And Hope in February of 2016, having no idea what was going to happen in October or November of that year. And for the last four years we’ve been clinging to the idea that yes, it’s still a world of love and hope. 


This one we named Another World because our material’s gotten a little darker…


…Oh, really? I hadn’t noticed.


Shut up, man! (Laughs) But we named it in February before the pandemic; we didn’t name it after Covid. So yeah, here we are. Another world. Sorry. The Flat Five did it. It’s our fault. (Laughs.)


I remember what you told your bandmates about the title of the last album: “Let’s go for positive broke and call it It’s A World Of Love And Hope.” I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the title of the new record is Another World; it’s hard not to notice the contrast between this batch of songs and the last one, is it?


Yeah, because we vowed to be a positive band; that was Scott (Ligon’s) idea to be positive. And I love sad songs. There were times when I’d bring a sad song with cool three-part harmonies and the reaction was “let’s be positive.” But after a while “Up With People” will wear you out. I was in a band in Atlanta called the Rockateens; our first name was gonna be “Down With People.”


Before we get into songwriting, in the tonal or sonic sense, the two albums are quite similar: campy, fun, soothing and whimsical, with a throwback feel reaching to anywhere from the 1940s to the 70s. Does Chris just give y’all the lyrics and leave the melodies and arrangements to the band? Does he send demos? 


No, no. That guy…he’s got melodies that are so sophisticated. He composes and puts lyrics to music. We get a song from him. We respect his melodies. Some of the songs on this album will also be on his new one. Like the song “I Don’t Even Care,” that was new for us when we were recording it in the Wilco Loft. Mine and Nora’s vocals on that one are just our scratch vocals from that day. Some songs on our new album have been around for a while. And we do respect his melodies. There was one song where I suggested, “Why don’t we do the minor key on the very last verse?” We thought about it, because we always get everybody’s ideas. We played around with it and decided, “Eh, let’s just be true to Chris’s vision.” 


That said, the songs…


The record opens on a bouncy note with “Drip A Drop” and “Look At The Birdie,” then things take a decidedly dark turn. There’s “I Don’t Even Care,” about a woman abandoning an alcoholic spouse; “The Great State of Texas” from the point of view of a death row inmate…


(giggles) Right…good times!


Oh, but it gets better! “This’ll Be The Day,” about a girl who dies in a car wreck. And that’s just the first half of the album! They sound fun, till you dig into lyrics. Would you like to dish on any of those?


Well, the lady in “I Don’t Even Care” buys the guy a puppy. She tried everything! 


It was really a challenge to sequence this album, you know, trying not to put all the bummers together so people can make it through the record. But we love the bummers! I like to roll in a sad song like a dog rolls in a dead squirrel. But even in “The Great State of Texas,” there are funny moments. He says he heard his last Beatles song, “the one Ringo sang.” It’s a tiny bit of whimsy that really tells you about the character; he must be a Beatles fan. He lets you know it wasn’t “Hey, Jude.” “It might be Octopus’s Garden.” (Laughs)


Chris’s irony is off the charts.


Oh, for sure. Even in the happy songs, there are little “shivs.” And then you’re like “Ow! Do it again!” It’s a happy shiv. 


And while we’re in the “let’s hang around at the hospice” mood, “World Missed Out” might be the most heartbreaking song I’ve ever heard. I mean, a 17-year-old throws a party, and just end up stacking empty chairs. I guess it’s just counterintuitive that the melody can so cool and the lyrics so sad. What’s it like recording songs with that kind of dichotomy? 


Oh, I love the challenge of singing a happy-sounding melody with a little cream-filled bummer in the middle. I don’t know…each song I guess I try to take individually. I loved Chris Ligon’s music even before I met Scott Ligon. I trust Chris Ligon. If he wants a song to be this way, that’s what we’ll do. 


But on “The World Missed Out,” I mean, it sounds like a Barry White make-out song. And it could be. We joked around in the studio, and actually one time sang it like Barry White: The world missed out, oh yeaaaaaaaaahhhhhh, baby. (Laughs) We put all the gravy on it. But the song is the boss, and the song didn’t want that on it. I’m not sure if that answers your question. 


But on that first verse – there’s humor. The kid chewing on a Hot Wheels track…


I chewed on Hot Wheels tracks!


I did that, too! Mostly we chewed on the connectors…you know, those red things that look like a tongue? 


Hot Wheels track connectors, with what appear to be teeth marks

 


Indeed I do.


Yeah, that early 1970s stuff that made us how we are. 


What’s life been like for an established Chicago musician in the days of Covid? Are you able to play gigs?


Nooope, I’m not. (Laughs) Because I live in Southern Wisconsin and the rest of the band lives in Chicago. The rest of the guys, in terms of our band functions…Scott Ligon plays every instrument in the world; so does Alex Hall, our drummer. Casey, the same. Nora plays everything. All I play is tambourine and the occasional triangle. I just focus on the singing. So in the band, I do the booking and the social media stuff because I feel like they do all the heavy lifting. They’ve all been playing shows because, well, they play instruments. Nobody wants to hear anyone play the tambourine, I can tell you that right now. So I’m not able to do online shows.


We’ve done tiny things here and there; we did a benefit with the song “It’s Been A Delight” from the last album, for a charity in Chicago. But it was really difficult to do because of the Zoom lag. We did a band Zoom right after the lockdown in early March, and trying to sing together that way just does not work. So we had to make it an acoustic version; Scott played guitar and sang his part, then sent it to the rest of us. We didn’t know if it would work, but it came together. 


Overall, though, it’s been tough; a lot of roller coasters. And I finally got to a point where I had to say, “I’ve quit music, at least for a while. I’m on a sabbatical,” because I was like a bird that kept flying into a window, thinking it’s the sky. And I was being tempted to make bad decisions, like “I’ll come down to Chicago, we’ll do a Zoom show with a grand piano and a film maker!” And then after two weeks we’re all like, “This is stupid, we can’t do this.” So it’s super frustrating, but I just had to stop flying into the window about it. 



Before I ask a philosophical question I’ll stipulate that I’m a lifelong Republican who voted for Joe Biden…


Thank you, thank yoooouuuuu! What state are you in?


I’m in Georgia.


Oh my gosh! Thank you so muuuuuuuch! Wisconsin! I did that, you people! It was me! 


(Laughs) My philosophical question is, is this still a world of love and hope? 


(Pauses) Yes…yes it is. There are dogs…there are people. So, yes. It is a world of love and hope. I believe that. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be talking to you. I mean, there’s flowers and dirt and dogs. I’ve been blessed, even though I’m 10,000 percent unemployed (musically.) I’ve been working for my friend, Lynda Barry, an amazing artist, helping her run an etsy shop. We’ve raised a bunch of money for charities. 


So, yes. 


I can turn the recorder off, leave it on, or delete this question all together, but it’s hard not to notice that Bloodshot isn’t distributing this album, and the label’s last year or so of trouble is no secret. Care to comment? 


Well, it was a really, really hard decision not to go with Bloodshot. They love us and we love them, but they basically advised us not to go with them for this release because of the uncertain future of the label. It was a nice friendly parting, but my heart’s broken for bloodshot. I don’t know what’s gonna happen and they don’t either. But I won’t comment on my personal feelings about that whole situation. 


Kel, thanks for the time. I really enjoyed it…


Thank you for the Southern accent in my phone! It feels so good in my ear! I’m leanin’ on it!


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So intrigued were we with the evolution of the Flat Five’s work, we went straight to the source, composer Chris Ligon, to dig a little deeper.


The most intriguing thing to me about Another World is that the general sound is so similar to It’s A World of Love and Hope, yet the lyrical contrast couldn’t be more striking. Were you just in a different place when composing this time around? 


I think to a degree I was. I don’t particularly like to think in terms of politics or what’s going on in the world; that’s really not what I do. I like to let things flow naturally and just be inspired by anything that comes to my head, rather than write for some “cause,” or because the world is a certain way. I would say that there were some instances that were intentional in that regard. But that’s really not what I like to do, you know? 


Let me follow up on that, because about a year ago you gave an interview to Chicago Magazine, which described your songwriting technique as “hitting chords on the piano while meditating, waiting for images to appear.” Fair to say that a lot of dark images were forthcoming this time? 


I would say this:  I sometimes write in area that are darker than others, as a rule throughout the years. When I write, it’s not necessarily for The Flat Five. Sometimes I have; I’ll think, “Oh, this is a good Flat Five song.” I just write a lot of songs, and have done so for the last 40 years. There are some things that are darker than others, just in my history of writing. 


But I didn’t sit down to write and intentionally think of turmoil in the world and think, “This would be a good way to go in terms of a Flat Five record. Now when they themselves sit down and assemble the album, that’s entirely their doing. I’ve presented them with songs sometimes that they didn’t feel like they wanted to record at the time, that they’ll just put in the back of their mind until later. I think it’s the Flat Five’s assembly of the songs, their choice of my songs – that maybe something darker, more solemn, a little less “party in the streets” – may be more appropriate at this time. 


Although with the results of the election, it may have required more of a celebration; I don’t know. And the “Over And Out” song at the end, I thought that was kind of a risky thing because they didn’t know how the election was gonna turn out. I think it turned out much better, knowing that we seem to be going in a better direction as a planet.  



The same article also called you “Chicago’s answer to Harry Nilsson,” which I’d assume you took as a compliment. Nilsson was an obvious free spirit and iconoclast, but his music wasn’t for everybody. I mean, the Beatles loved him; but is that a fair comparison?


 I love him! I think it’s fair in the sense that I prefer to write music, record it and send it out there for people to hear it. And while I have done live shows over the past 30 years, they’ve been fairly sporadic. Especially over the last five years. 


I believe Harry Nilsson was similar, in that he didn’t like to do live shows. I don’t know whether that was for the same reasons I have. I don’t know whether he had stage fright, or what his deal was. But for me personally, I love the writing aspect so much that I’ve cut back on doing live shows intentionally. In my case, when I have a live show on the horizon, I think about it almost exclusively and I prepare for it. I’m not a person like my brother, Scott, who can pick up a guitar after not holding one for a while and sound amazing. I have to really re-remember my songs. That’s how infrequently I play out. So I prefer not to have my mind cluttered, having to remember my old songs. I like to have an open mind about the new things I’m writing. It’s really hard for me to think about more than one thing at a time; I’m not good at juggling.


Mike Campbell once said of the Heartbreakers’ songwriting philosophy: “Don’t bore us; get to the chorus.” The bulk of your songs come in under two and a half minutes. Have you always placed a high value on being so concise? 


Kind of. Occasionally a song will end up short just because I’ve become impatient with it and want to move on. Other times it’s more intentional. You know, there’s a Chicago band I really love, an avante-garde outfit called The Residents, and they put out an album in 1980. It was called The Commercial Album, and it was 40 songs, all one minute!  


(Laughs)


And it was great! There were so many ideas; you get to hear so many great melodies over 40 minutes. I’m not big on long-winded anthems. I’m not a person who likes to JAM and draw things out unnecessarily; I kind of like to just get in and get out, and leave people with the idea, leave them with the melody. I’ve always believed it’s better to leave an audience wanting more than to have people looking at their watches, wondering, “Is this about to wrap up?” 


Humor and irony are big parts of your writing. I’m having a hard time divining who some of your influences are, other than maybe Dr. Demento. 


Haha!


Care to fill in some blanks? 


Well, there are thousands. I’ve always loved music. My parents played a lot of records when I was a kid, so we had a lot of good stuff to hear: jazz records, pop vocalists. I heard a lot of music from the time I was born, and it was pretty eclectic stuff. So I have a great record collection, and so does my wife. We trade records and buy each other records. 


But there are hundreds and thousands of people whose music I really love and who influence me. Sometimes it shows up obviously; other times it’s maybe something that I’ve thought of while sitting at the piano that pushed me to continue in this vein. Maybe it’s just a snippet of a verse, some chord that reminded me of a particular person’s stuff. I’m definitely influenced by tons of people; just not one particular person. It’s not that I’m following in one person’s footsteps. I just love all types of music. 


-----


The Flat Five’s Another World is out today on Pravda Records (the truth, wink, wink), wherever you purchase music.  Bandcamp. AmazonSpotify.



Nov 12, 2020

Exclusive Song Premiere / The Flat Five / "I Don't Even Care"


Chicago supergroup The Flat Five will release its second album, Another World, on Friday. To whet your appetite, FTM has the exclusive premiere of “I Don’t Even Care,” penned by the enigmatic Chris Ligon. 





The Flat Five are a sui generis, impossible to pigeonhole into any genre. 

Just a little over four years ago, we talked with Kelly Hogan on the eve of 

the band’s debut album. Check back here Friday for our follow-up 

interview with Hogan – including some input from Ligon – to see how two 

albums that sound alike can be so completely different.



-- Kevin Broughton


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