|Scott Hirsch — Blue Rider Songs (August 19th 2016)|
Scott Hirsch — Blue Rider Songs (August 19th 2016) •♦• On his debut solo album, the Hiss Golden Messenger member finally lets out his voice — a cool, soulful thing filled with deep reverence for the road, if some cynicism about the myths it’s spun.
Location: Ojai, CA
Occupation: Sound design, mixing, original music, post~production. Studio owner (((echo magic west))) ~ HGM on tour now Blue Rider Songs out now on Scissortail records.
Album release: August 19th 2016
Record Label: Scissor Tail Records (Tulsa, Oklahoma)
01. Blue Rider 5:08
02. Loss Of Forgetfulness 3:45
03. Darkness 3:26
04. No Wife 1:58
05. The Sun Comes Up A Purple Diamond 5:49
06. Raga of the Sea 2:01
07. Sundown Highway 2:24
08. Elevator Blue Rider 2:05
09. Isabella 4:22
10. Blue Within Blue 4:52
11. We Took Back Roads (Blue Highways) 3:49
→ Produced, recorded, and performed by Scott Hirsch at Echo Magic East & West.
→ All songs copyright Dreamwood Music 2016
→ Artwork by Linda Aldredge.
→ Jade Hendrix, harmony vocals
→ Phillip Cook, organ, Wurlitzer, harmonica
→ Matthew Douglas, saxophones
→ Thomas Heyman, pedal steel
→ Andrew Borger, drums
→ Billy Mohler, drums, piano, Wulitzer on Darkness
→ Steve Gunn, lyrics for Purple Diamond
→ Nick MacDonald, Wurlitzer on Blue Within Blue
→ Brantley Jones, harmony vocals on Purple Diamond
→ Marlene Payo, harmony vocals on Blue Rider
•♦• “On the old highway maps of America, the main routes were red and the back roads blue. Now even the colors are changing. But in those brevities just before dawn and a little after dusk — times neither day nor night — the old roads return to the sky some of its color. Then, in truth, they carry a mysterious cast of blue, and it’s that time when the pull of the blue highway is strongest, when the open road is a beckoning, a strangeness, a place where a man can lose himself.” — William Least Heat~Moon, Blue Highways (1982)
•♦• After many years spent as a steadfast and inventive collaborator — not only playing bass and producing four albums with Hiss Golden Messenger, but in large part forging that band’s sonic signature — multi~instrumentalist, recordist, and audio engineer Scott Hirsch has finally made a solo album, and it’s called Blue Rider Songs. The very notion of a “solo” album, and its associated emancipatory baggage, is a specious designation in this case, since music this quietly assured, this effortlessly unfolding, does not bloom in isolation or solipsism. Although Blue Rider Songs articulates Hirsch’s singular aesthetic (more on that soon) more lucidly and forthrightly than any other album on which he has worked, it is also, like most good music, the alloyed fruit of long hours, and long travels, with other writers and players, and with other records, and books, and films.
•♦• And indeed, these recordings feature notable, and notably subtle, contributions from Jade Hendrix (harmony vocals); Thomas Heyman (pedal steel), Hirsch’s old bandmate in the San Francisco group the Court and Spark; and HGM stalwarts Phil Cook (organ and harmonica) and Matt Douglas (saxophones), among others. But as a primarily single~artist vision and statement, it does speak to the way that back roads, detours away from or around one’s other, more high~profile creative pursuits, can lead lead to unexpected destinations arguably more compelling than anything the highways could provide. Sometimes, as William Least Heat~Moon demonstrates in Blue Highways, his classic travelogue of rural America (an admitted influence on this album), you have to leave the main roads to understand their contours and their worth. And as in “Sundown Highway,” that can be a slow, and heavy, journey; you might, like Lowell George, require “weed, whites, and wine.”
•♦• Blue Rider Songs emerged from various personal contexts: a year of near~constant touring with Hiss Golden Messenger in 2015; a move with his family from Brooklyn to Ojai, California, and the launch of his new Echo Magic West studio there; and above all, the process of making the self~titled Golden Gunn album with longtime musical partner M.C. Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger and their mutual friend Steve Gunn. Hirsch wrote much of the music on that album, and watching Taylor and Gunn set words and vocals to his instrumental productions proved the necessary catalyst to take his writing and recording into fresh territory under his own name. Hirsch even reinterprets Golden Gunn standout track “The Sun Comes up a Purple Diamond” here, repurposing Gunn’s lyrics, but attenuating the song into something even more heat~stricken and dilatory than the hazy original version — no mean feat.
•♦• The album title, of course, references Der Blaue Rieter, the short~lived German modernist art movement (1911~14) pioneered by painters Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc, who were fascinated by color theory and synesthesia (for Kandinsky, blue was the color of spirituality, abstraction, and the eternal.) As an engineer and producer, Hirsch has always excelled as a colorist, and it’s satisfying to hear how his characteristic palette — an unlikely, humid nexus of J.J. Cale’s narcotic, head~nodding guitar boogie, Waylon Jennings’ honky stomp, and Scientist’s pristine, formalist dub textures — complements his own compositions on Blue Rider Songs. This is a languid, future blues unbothered by authenticity scare quotes or the implementation of studio technology — it lives “outside of time,” like the protagonist of “Loss of Forgetfulness.” (The same song’s line about “the work of some machines” is apt, as is the ambiguous reference — perhaps — to sci~fi prophet’s Philip K. Dick’s “pink light from above.”) This is the also the most of us have heard of Hirsch’s singing to date, and it is relaxed, limpid, and unassumingly sweet.
•♦• To describe Blue Rider Songs as cinematic is almost too easy, considering Hirsch’s acclaimed work as a film sound designer, but there are moments here (like “Raga of the Sea”) that remind me of what Ry Cooder’s Paris, Texas soundtrack might have sounded like if it was recorded in 2016; there is a similar sense of Western scale and desert longing. But what is most interesting about the album is not any one setting or voice, but rather the illimitable, in~between spaces it traverses, the blue highways it rides between various traditions and tangents of North American vernacular music and the various nodes of Hirsch’s long and accomplished musical practice. These songs suggest, in their modest way, that we get lost in the tangle of those lines on the map, before the colors have all changed. It’s good advice. — Brendan Greaves, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, May 2016
by Laura Snapes, AUGUST 22 2016; Score: 8.0
•♦• When you’ve been traveling as long as Scott Hirsch has, you know better than to expect easy revelations from the road. In the mid~’90s, the California native formed the noise band Ex~Ignota alongside his friend MC Taylor. By the end of the decade, they had broken off as the Court and Spark, an alt~country group that presaged their spiritually inclined outfit Hiss Golden Messenger. Initially, the duo was roughly split into Hirsch’s music backing Taylor’s lyrics, though it became the latter’s project over time. Hirsch took on more of a live role, and after a year of heavy Hiss touring in 2015, he moved from Brooklyn back to California, opened a studio, and started work on his debut solo album. It’s taken a long time for him to let out his voice — a cool, soulful thing filled with deep reverence for his source material, if some cynicism about the myths it’s spun.
•♦• In 2013, Taylor and Hirsch teamed up with Steve Gunn for one~off collaboration Golden Gunn, which riffs on JJ Cale’s logo on the cover. This generation of pickers doesn’t hide their influences, fearing accusations of unoriginality, but foregrounds them, confidently establishing themselves as part of a trailblazing lineage. Hirsch is especially overt in this respect, referencing Cale in “Blue Rider” (“they call me the breeze”), and the “weed, whites, and wine” of Little Feat’s “Willin’” on “Sundown Highway,” influences than manifest deeper in the music. His guitar choogles closer to Lowell George’s “Honest Man” than any Little Feat staples, and channels Cale’s spry equanimity and rickety drum machines. (Given Hirsch’s canonical approach, it’s also probably no accident that Blue Rider Songs arrives through a Tulsa label, Scissor Tail.) Like Phil Cook (pulling organ duties here), Hirsch finds ways of enlivening tradition, dusting on spacey synths to spotlight country funk and dub’s common rhythms, and injecting soulful vocal harmonies to lift the gorgeous, humid atmosphere.
•♦• Over the past year, several of Hirsch’s peers have been out searching for meaning on America’s interstates. Cook’s Southland Mission fled to remember the value of belonging, while Gunn’s oblique Eyes on the Lines reflected Walt Whitman’s admiration in “Song of the Open Road,” “You express me better than I can express myself.” Just as William Tyler’s Modern Country surveyed the margins, warning against forgetting the “cultural geography of this vanishing America,” Hirsch’s Blue Rider Songs also veers from the beaten track. It steers onto the “blue highways” described in travel writer William Least Heat~Moon’s 1982 memoir as the periods at dawn and dusk “when the opening road is a beckoning, a strangeness, a place where a man can lose himself.” Hirsch’s narrator is lost, seemingly exiled, but it’s not the kind of self~indulgent searching where he expects to be handed a pearl somewhere along the line.
•♦• He sets his compass on “Loss of Forgetfulness,” gently establishing the self~deceit of those who believe in free will while clinging tight to symbols that seem heaven~sent. Hirsch’s tone is never admonishing, the communal backing harmonies and horizontal groove doubling up as a kind of reassurance: Who wouldn’t want to believe in self~determination while holding out hope that some greater power could come and clean up our messes? But Hirsch knows that the hard work is all his to do, and ventures out into a landscape saturated by pink light, gold houses, and purple diamond suns. Men are “shitty diamonds, cut from the earth” who have to be sent out “to find their worth,” on “The Sun Comes Up a Purple Diamond,” a reprisal of an understated Golden Gunn song that he turns into a soulful romp coated in rusty shimmer.
•♦• Although everything here sounds familiar in one way or another, Hirsch has a finely tuned ear: the harmonica on “Sundown Highway” flares like distant coyote calls, and spare centerpiece “Raga of the Sea” distills the moment where loss makes its gravity known. “Who thought this would be easy?” he asks amid luxurious peals of guitar on “We Took Back Roads (Blue Highways).” “It’s a heavy weight.” On Blue Rider Songs, Hirsch debunks the idea that redemption is ever a cakewalk, and finds something more truthful and lasting in the pursuit of accepting responsibility.
|Scott Hirsch — Blue Rider Songs (August 19th 2016)|