This is the second of my solo albums. To be honest, ten years ago, when I first started getting back into music, I had no concept of where it would take me: it was a way of mixing things up in my spoken word shows at the Free Fringe that year. A Tribute to Venus Carmichael album, production credits on one of Isaac Brutal’s, and now, two of my own later, I seem to have mutated from writer to songwriter!
This album, like the first, is absolutely free. You can download it from Soundcloud – see the tracks below – or, if you prefer the old-fashioned way, I can send you a CD. I’ll even pay the postage, but as there are only 55 of these, they won’t last forever! If you just can’t get enough of this stuff, you can sign up to my ‘inner circle’: this subset of my email group should be getting some exclusive bonus tracks and one or two digital goodies over the next few months. Email me at venus [dot] carmichael [at] gmail [dot] com if you want in.
In any event, all I ask in return is that you donate to a charity. This time round I’m making two suggestions. The first is Oxfam, which, despite the bad publicity about the actions of a few guys no longer in the organisation, still do crucial work in the world’s poorest regions. Or, if you want to be more local, the Glenrothes Foodbank does vital stuff in my home town. I wish they didn’t have to exist, but they do (you can, of course, if you prefer, donate to something similar in your own locale).
I have no way of checking how much you give, of course. But you seem like a good person.
If you want an independent (albeit friendly) perspective on the album, my pal Norman Lamont, a singer-songwriter of much wider renown than me, has done me the honour of a review.
Now, for the story behind the tracks:
I thought this would be my Bruce Springsteen album, but it’s more like Leonard Cohen. I’m a long-time Springsteen fan, of course, but I was also inspired by country rockers like Jason Isbell and Cory Branan last year. At the same time, I had a fire lit under me by the injustice and inequality I saw in my own home town, watching a documentary about Fife Council.
But, at least for me, it’s not just as simple as sitting down to write a song and knowing what’s going to come out. And what came out, a lot of the time, was quite Cohenesque. This first track is a prime example. It was done and (almost) dusted quite early on, but then (fellow Cohen fan) Norman Lamont (yeah, the same one that did the review, not the former Chancellor of the Exchequer) came over one night with his Strat and sprinkled just a bit of stardust on the track.
Some tracks took longer than others. ‘Cicero’s Blues’ was first written in a hotel room in Edinburgh in October, 2016, and started out as ‘Tin Can.’ I was never happy with the middle 8, until Cicero lent a hand. He may have been the first person to come out with that phrase ‘You don’t know what you got until it’s gone.’ But it wasn’t till I put a more dynamic drum track on it just before album release in March 2018 that it was done.
Sometimes, you do need that extra bit of stardust. The same evening that he put some doomy undercarriage on ‘Final Days,’ Norman Lamont added a lovely bit of slide to this next track. Like most of the album, the concentration is on acoustic guitar: but there’s a perhaps surprising amount of electric on it, given that I don’t actually own one!
A word about the artwork. Most of its imagery isn’t too hard to figure out, especially the Roman legionary, given there’s a song referencing Cicero; and this one, which tells the story of the famous ‘lost legion’ of the Ninth. The padlock symbolises the fight all of us have to break out of restrictions, self-imposed and otherwise; the vintage-style metronome, the passage of time, as well as the recording process; and as for the weathervane, well, everyone knows now you don’t need a weatherman to know the way the wind blows.
The lamp? It’s just a lamp.
It’s All Gravy came from a bit of inter-band banter with the Isaac Brutal boys (and girl) on Facebook chat. The lyrics are a strictly surreal Kafkaesque nonsense, but I was particularly pleased at the way I got the guitars to interact. The Epiphone EJC200, in particular, seemed to be made for the Johnny Cash-style rhythm, and it also contributed the fillers: I’m never going to be Eric Flaming Clapton, but this worked for me.
I like wine over whisky, isn’t it a sin? That bit of this next song is, to be honest, utterly autobiographical. I’m taking the fifth on the rest of the lyrics! They sat in a notebook for quite a long time, and I didn’t even know if I would get around to recording it. Then I did, and I suspect the fun I had doing it comes through.
Sonically, I wanted a warm bath of acoustic guitars for this next track. The key, of course, was having the beautiful violin line running through it, and Jennifer Kerr came in, did it in a single take, and nailed it. The lyrics reference the Sage of Montreal again, and play with the concept of altars and heart-stealing. Simple really.
I’m not the biggest fan of Father John Misty but there was something in ‘Divine Comedy’ that spoke to me. That tone, playful but sincere, was what I had in mind here. I wrote the first half of the lyrics around the same time I got the melody. Then I stopped for a bit: it kind of felt like if I finished it right away, I’d spoil it. The rest of the lyrics came more slowly. I even used bibliomancy, for the line about trumpeters and artisans. To be honest, it still feels like I could write another 96 verses of it.
I wanted to finish with something uplifting, and this was as good as it was going to get. Actually, I felt the spiritual hand of Tom Petty when recording this track: I came up with the basic chord change when I still had Mark’s 12 string, and that jangly sound that Petty inherited from the Byrds, was what I had in mind as the core of the thing. I recorded a basic track with the Danelectro to a click track, handed it back, and then began to build a sound around it.
Another key moment was when I ditched the sort-of-okay drum track I was using for a more complex system of breaks and fills, taking a leaf out of my mentor Mr Lamont’s book in that regard. There’s nothing that substitutes for a real drummer, of course. The vocal was quite hard to do in my own accent. I kept wanting to slip into sounding like Tom Petty.
The message, that there never was a golden age as such, but we can build one if we work together, isn’t perhaps fathoms deep, but maybe brings the lyrical content of the album back from the brink after all the death, destruction, imminent apocalypse and torture tales elsewhere.
And finally… just so that you can hear one of my songs with a proper singer, I negotiated with Mr Brutal that I could put on a song from his latest long player, The Falcon Has Landed. I had a couple of songs on it, but this is one I thought fitted the rest of my album. Graham Crawford, Isaac’s long term producer, did a fine job with it. It’s not free to download on Soundcloud, but instead, follow the link to the Brutal Bandcamp presence and listen to more great stuff. If you go the old-fashioned way, though, you do get it on the CD.