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Travels with Charlie. This is Americana Music

Austin


Home Sweet Wilson Street.

Tucson


My first stop on the 10-Towns tour. I loved living in Tucson. I felt like it was the closest I'd ever get to knowing what Austin was like in the 70's. There is a thriving creative community there, and all the artists and musicians have their studios and rehearsal spaces in cheap warehouse spaces right downtown. You can walk from your rehearsal studio to Club Congress for the gig, and then to any of the 4 bars that any of your friends might be hanging out at that night. It's a small town, really. But it feels just right. Just on the edge of something. Still undiscovered by hipsters and developers. And there is so much great music.

Tucson recommendations:

Bands to check out: Sergio Mendoza Y La Orkesta, The Silver Thread Trio, Brian Lopez Restaurants: Cafe Poca Cosa, The Cup Cafe

L.A.


I found my sublet in L.A. through a friend of a friend, who happened to be in the Bahamas for the month recording with Iron Maiden. This little grove of cottages, built to house the Munchkins during the filming of the Wizard of Oz, reminded me so much of WIlson Street. Except, instead of Austiny alt-country, blues, and folk artists, these cottages housed some serious rockers. I called the place Hard Rock Row.

The way the recording of Whirlwind came together was almost miraculous. It was my last week in L.A. and I still had no prospects for the recording project. I had had a couple ideas, but all of them had been squashed and I was feeling pretty bummed about it. I happened to have dinner with my friend Dave Way and joked to him that I was going to have the second track on the record be two minutes of silence and call it "F*ck L.A." He said he might be able to get me in to do something at his home studio on Saturday - the last day before I had to leave town. It was a scramble to get everything together. Will Sexton happened to be in town, and Paul Bryan, who had played bass with me on my last gig, was up for it. The morning of the session we still had no drummer. Dave called Brian McCleod, who happened to be sitting at home in his boxers watching a hockey game. Mike Thompson also stopped by to play some piano. It turned out beautifully.

Portland


My month in Portland was a short one, with a lot of travel taking me out of town. Portland seems to be really loyal to its local artists, and I think that's a great thing. But it makes it hard for a non-local to get a foot in the door. I couldn't get a residency. So, I did some regional touring instead, driving up to Washington for a couple gigs, and making the recording on Vashon Island at Ian Moore's house. There was something really magical about this recording. All the kids had left the house to go fishing, in the rain. There was a pot of chicken and dumplings on the stove. Ian and I sat down and talked about the song, and set up to record at the piano in the living room. We were just about to start recording when everybody spilled back into the house. We tried to proceed anyway - we were in the zone! - but it was impossible to get the kind of quiet we needed. Each take we attempted that afternoon was foiled by something hilariously adorable - one of the kids whispering "Mommmm...?" or the dog's toenailed footsteps on the wooden floor. So we gave it up and waited til the whole house had gone to sleep. It was there, immediately. We hadn't lost the zone. My amateur piano playing and unusually intimate vocals gave this song something different. Ian and Will were in the control room playing guitar and bass. And then, sleepy from the cold Northwest day, we added some spooky harmonies in the bridge instead of going for a guitar solo.

Boulder


I loved living in Boulder. It was spring, and I needed spring like nobody's business. Boulder was so beautiful in April, though the weather was insanely unpredictable. There was one day when I was outside all morning hiking in the mountains, in just jeans and a t-shirt, and then, with my afternoon cup of coffee, I watched a hailstorm (thankfully) through the window. I met the Navarro guys though my Austin friend, and producer of Wilson St., Mark Hallman. These guys were like my surrogate family in Boulder. It felt really good to have them there.

Shreveport


Every time I mention that I did a month of this town in Shreveport, I get raised eyebrows. "Shreveport? Why Shreveport?" Well, the fact is, I ran into Brady Blade during SXSW and he pulled hard for it. New Orleans? No -- come to Shreveport! So I did. And I’m glad I did. I've never lived anywhere like Shreveport. People in Shreveport say that it’s about 20 years behind the rest of the country. I can tell you that town still doesn’t know how to make a decent cup of coffee. According to the 1981 Book Of Lists (which I happen to have handy here – I use it mostly as a writing reference) it was, at that time, the most segregated city in the United States. It doesn’t hold that title anymore, but you can still feel the division in the way people talk. I grew up Jewish, and not very religious, so I had never been to church before. It seemed to me that everyone in Shreveport went to church. So one Sunday morning, I called up Brady's mom, the preacher's wife, and went to church with her. The music was incredible. And the preacher, Brady Sr., would transition so smoothly from preaching the sermon into picking up the bass and singing a song. Like Brady, he was so charismatic. It's not hard to imagine why people would want to join the church.

Also during that month, on my way back from a gig in New Orleans, I stopped in Lafayette for a night out at the Blue Moon Saloon. It was there I met the notorious CC Adcock, who gave me a CD that would become my Most-Played Record of 2010 - The Lil' Band O Gold. I didn't make a recording during my month in Shreveport. So at the very end of the tour, I decided to swing back through Louisiana to record with these guys, who I’d become a huge fan of. I brought a song I had written called “Girl who Cried Love” – and they nailed it.

Burlington


Out of all my homes away from home, my Burlington house was most like my own. It came equipped with a record player, a typewriter, and a collection of hats. There was a heat wave that month. I remember for a couple days it was hotter in Burlington than it was in Austin. I went swimming in some beautiful Vermont swimming holes. And then, for the first time on the tour, I got really sick. I was house-bound for the better part of a week. So somehow, Burlington ended up being a really prolific writing month for me. I wrote a ton. And good stuff. Usually it doesn’t come to me so easily, but, because I was stuck in the house, when an idea came into my head, I could attend to it immediately. A lot of songs get lost if they come to you when you’re out in the world… You tell yourself you’ll remember ‘em. But you usually don’t. So I spent most afternoons sitting at the little table in my kitchen writing… That’s where I wrote Bitterness, Obvious to Me, and a few others that you’ll probably hear on the next record…

Milwaukee


Milwaukee is much cooler than you think. Yes, it’s a beer town. And if you are a beer fan, you’ll be in heaven. But it’s also a pretty great place to live. I was living right off Brady Street, in a cool up-and-coming neighborhood where I could walk to any number of great bars and restaurants. I had come to Milwaukee because a friend of mine was working at a radio station there, and Milwaukee has great radio! I got to play guest DJ on the station, and of course I wanted to expose Milwaukeeans to music they’d never heard before – some Austin artists and other bands that I’d discovered throughout my travels

Nashville


I’ll be honest -- I didn’t think I was going to like Nashville at all. My impression as an outsider was that it was a conservative town with a conservative attitude toward making music. But I just hadn’t discovered it yet. First of all, there’s a whole scene in East Nashville that’s just as “weird” as Austin claims to be. And there’s a great sense of community – well, actually, there are more than a few music communities just living there all right next to each other. Which is one of the things that makes Nashville a really cool place to live and make music. You have access to all of it.

Asheville


Asheville is beautiful in the fall. But it was Charlotte I fell in love with. I had a gig there toward the beginning of the month at a dive bar called The Thirsty Beaver. It was there I met the Leadville Social Club, who ended up being my band later that month. I opened for them, and then during their set they called me up to sing harmonies on an old Byrds song. It was fun. I was enjoying being up there. It was loose and everybody was just smiling and having a good time. Not to mention, the whole bar was going crazy over the music. The guys asked if I wanted to just stay up there and play. Hell yeah, I said. I already had my electric guitar set up with my little califone amp…

I had such a blast playing guitar in the band, the hours whizzed by like nothing. I was rockin out. The whole experience really renewed my love of music. I just want to play guitar in a band!! There happened to be a woman in the crowd that night who was booking a festival in nearby Shelby, NC, at the end of the month. She asked me if I would like to come play. See, that’s the cool thing about sticking around. I would still be there. I said yes, and it was yet another really cool musical experience. Go Carolina.

New York


In November I split my time between sleepy little Woodstock, and NYC, where I was born and raised. Woodstock was supposed to be a refuge for me, which I guess it is for a lot of people. After so many months on the road, and so much social activity, I needed a little break. And I got one. For a week I holed myself up in a big wooden house, playing guitar, working on songs. I recorded Lone Ranger with Malcolm Burn in nearby Kingston, NY. And then, I was back in the city, seeing old friends, hanging out with my mom, and playing some gigs at my favorite familiar New York haunts… The tour was winding down, and sure felt like it. I barely wrote anything in my tour journal. I was ready to go home. Austin home. So, then I did.