PAUL BURCH ANNOUNCES MERIDIAN RISING,
AN IMAGINED AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF LEGEND JIMMIE RODGERS
Features the WPA Ballclub with Fats Kaplin,
Tim O’Brien, Billy Bragg, E Street Band’s Garry Tallent,
The Mekons’ Jon Langford, and William Tyler
Paul Burch, a pioneer in fusing an unmistakably modern voice to American roots music, celebrates his 10th release, Meridian Rising, on Plowboy Records on February 6, 2016. Meridian Rising is a first-of-its-kind concept album based on the life of Jimmie Rodgers — the genre-breaking superstar of the late 1920s whose blend of pop, folk, and blues anticipated rock ’n’ roll.
The February 6 release also includes the issue of a limited-edition 10-inch EP of vinyl-only tracks featuring Billy Bragg, plus two songs recorded direct to the King Records cutting lathe at Third Man Records. The vinyl 10-inch includes a full download of Meridian Rising along with a poster by Country Music Hall of Fame artist-in-residence Jon Langford.
For more than two decades, Burch has combined an indie rock ethos with a personal vision of roots music that has attracted a mix of equally ineffable collaborators including Lambchop, Mark Knopfler, Vic Chesnutt, Candi Staton, the Waco Brothers, and Ralph Stanley. “At the risk of being impeached by the bluegrass purists,” wrote legendary music critic Chet Flippo in 2006, “I think Burch is the best duet partner Ralph Stanley has found since his brother, Carter Stanley, died in 1966.”
Flippo first singled out Burch in the early ’90s in a Billboard cover story on the honky-tonk revival in downtown Nashville, citing Burch’s debut, Pan American Flash, as “extraordinary … establishing Burch as a leader in marrying country’s roots tradition with a modern sensibility.” Though Pan American Flash made No. 5 on Amazon.com’s Best Country Albums of the Decade, Burch has never referred to himself as a country singer. (“Charlie Louvin said I am, but I’m not so sure,” says Burch.) And indeed, all of Burch’s albums have landed on pop, rock and country “best of” lists in the U.S. and U.K.
Meridian Rising is an imagined autobiography of Jimmie Rodgers and takes the listener along for the ride as Burch — writing and singing as Rodgers — recalls the locales, love affairs, and harrowing scraps that were all part of the Blue Yodeler’s brief but colorful life.
Meridian Rising is scored to the sounds and rhythms of Rodger’s time and follows his life from his childhood in Meridian, Mississippi, to his death at the Hotel Taft in New York in 1933. The album was inspired by a studio outtake of the Rodgers classic “Let Me Be Your Sidetrack” recorded with bluesman Clifford Gibson.
“They sounded joyous together,” says Burch. “It’s the only recording of Rodgers with a contemporary blues guitar player and the song became a kind of portal for me to jump into his life.”
Meridian Rising was co-produced with Grammy winner Dennis Crouch, the WPA Ballclub’s longtime upright bassist also known for his work in T-Bone Burnett’s studio band (Rhiannon Giddens, Raising Sand, Elvis Costello). Players include Grammy winners Fats Kaplin and Tim O’Brien along with Jon Langford of the Waco Brothers/Mekons, finger-style guitar renegade William Tyler, E Street Band co-founder Garry Tallent, and Billy Bragg, who, along with Langford, makes a guest appearance in “If I Could Only Catch My Breath.”
While making Meridian Rising, Burch was given access to rarely seen archives at the Country Music Hall of Fame and C.F. Martin guitars and had frequent conversations with Rodgers biographers Nolan Porterfield and Barry Mazor. The result is a musical tour-de-force that mirrors Rodger’s uncanny ability to seem timeless and modern simultaneously.
“Meridian Rising is a 21st century echo emanating from inside Jimmie Rodgers’ 1930s ears,” says Grammy-winning author and Best of Enemies filmmaker Robert Gordon, “The Singing Brakeman skirted both time and place to become America’s transcendent hobo, a walking, train-hopping singing crossroads of all things American. Here, the sounds of that spectacular crossroads are given a newfangled reimagining by a modern original.”
Burch served as a music consultant to the PBS film The Appalachians and can be heard in HBOs True Blood as well as the soundtracks to The Rookie and History of Violence.
Last spring Burch performed at the White House for his contribution to Hip Hop for Public Health’s Songs for a Healthier America, an innovative collaboration with Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign featuring Chuck D and Doug E. Fresh. And Burch’s tribute to Buddy Holly: Words of Love, led to a new fan in Holly’s widow, Maria Elena. “Words of Love is beautiful,” said Maria Elena. “Paul has everything Buddy wanted to hear in an artist — his own style and his own sound.”
“I’m a Paul Burch fan,” says Peter Guralnick, author of biographies on Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke and Sam Phillips. “How could I not be? His music never fails to achieve its purpose, what Sun Records founder Sam Phillips has deemed the unequivocal purpose of every kind of music: to lift up, to deepen, to intensify the spirit of audience and musicians alike.”
Look for tour dates and more info on Meridian Rising soon and visit paulburch.com for more information.
Paul Burch, Nashville’s honky tonk auteur and a writer of unmistakably modern but instantly classic songs, announces his new album, Fevers, released via Plowboy Records. Backed by his redoubtable band, the WPA Ballclub, Burch’s 9th album Fevers reveals the side of Burch most often heard on stage—intense, unbridled, and full of bravado. Long a proponent of live, analog recording, Burch captures the sound of discovery—of performance over perfection– with his forthcoming full-length. Fevers is a riveting and haunting mix of honky tonk, stringband blues, and rock and roll grooves that defies easy categories. That’s no surprise since Burch is a category unto himself.
Critics have praised Burch’s albums as “music that sounds thoroughly modern but completely unlike contemporary country” (USA Today) and Entertainment Weekly has called him “a modern day Jimmie Rodgers.” The UK’s Uncut Magazine has awarded each of Burch’s past three albums a five star rating saying: “No one makes records like this anymore.”
Fevers catches Burch’s mellifluous voice and the rolling swing of the WPA Ballclub while the iron is still hot. “I tried to hold onto the fervor that first drove me to write the song in these performances,” says Burch. “My songs always come to me in a fever. But this time I let them run a bit wild without a thought as to what kind of album I’d end up with.”
Fevers ranges from lyrical ballads like Melancholy Baby—which combines harmonium and violin into an unearthly string section—to a startling reimagining of the folk classic Cluck Old Hen, which conjures a sandstorm howl of chanting feedback with the very same instruments.
Multi-instrumentalist and long-time collaborator Fats Kaplin (founding member of both the WPA Ballclub and Jack White’s Buzzards) co-produced the album with Burch himself. “Fats shares my love of recording live as a group and performing without a set list,” says Burch. “Knowing records by Charlie Patton and Jimmie Rodgers as kids shaped the way we listen and perform.” In many ways, Fevers represents a summation of Burch’s exploration of the American groove: “I love country and the blues and I’m finding a way to make my own rock and roll.”
For Fevers, Burch arranged the band around each song’s featured instrument and taped performances just as the rehearsal was coming together. “The focus was on connecting to the tune and making a recording that’s between a live performance and a studio record. Fevers is a literal record of a band and a songwriter discovering music and hearing it bloom.”
Burch describes Fevers as the sound of a writer in a state of discovery. “Typically no one likes to admit that you’re in a state of transition or development, but I’d rather the audience be there to participate in it,” says Burch. “Fevers is right on, but not ‘correct’ by the standards most people are making records today. Even though I wrote most of Fevers’ songs, I’m not sure what to call them. The WPA Ballclub is my instrument and I mix and match musicians to the song.”
Burch’s love for seeking new and unusual combinations is a lifelong passion. Born in Washington, D.C. the son of a painter, Burch’s childhood centered around the Workshop, an artist collective overseen by master printmaker Lou Stovall.
“Lou’s Workshop was a playground both for me and his artists. Lou encouraged different disciplines to work together. They were my inspiration for the WPA Ballclub.” Stovall’s close friendship with jazz pianist Les McCaan provided Burch his first musical teacher. “We rented a farm house that belonged to 50’s TV star Arthur Godfrey. Les would come out to play piano and talk about how instruments can blend together to paint a picture. Lou Stovall did something similar with his silkscreen prints and with color combinations that sharpened or distorted the image.”
Fevers shows that behind Burch’s ever-sharpening wit and beguiling lyricism is a keen desire to connect. The harmonies of Kelly Hogan, along with Jen Gunderman and Kristi Rose, provide both sweetness and dissent to Fevers’ tracks, which shift between the clattering, vibrato-heavy Couldn’t Get A Witness, the pounding Rhodes piano groove of Breaking In A Brand New Heartache, to the deep blues of Ocean of Tears–originally by Kay Star and Tennessee Ernie Ford—sung by Burch and Hogan literally cheek to cheek.
“Songs like Ocean of Tears go back to my days singing in the honky tonks downtown when I first came to Nashville and formed the WPA,” recalls Burch. “By day, I’d knock on the doors of musicians who played on the great country records. At night, I’d set up at Tootsies with the WPA on a plywood stage with a single mic in a back room that had no roof, singing songs up to the stars.”
Fans and critics quickly took note of the scene, which Burch chronicles in Fevers’ Saturday Night Jamboree, featuring Chris Scruggs (grandson of Earl Scruggs) on fiddle, for an effortlessly swinging track that sounds like a Saturday night.
Burch was first singled out when his 1996 debut, Pan American Flash, was named Amazon.com’s #5 Best Country Albums of the 90s and was described by Billboard’s Chet Flippo as “extraordinary…establishing Burch as a leader in marrying country’s roots tradition with a modern sensibility.”
But Burch has never referred to himself as a country singer (“Charlie Louvin said I am but I’m not so sure”) and his previous albums have landed on “best of” pop, rock and country lists in the US and UK. Burch’s musical appeal transcends genres and generations as evidenced by collaborations with Mark Knopfler, Vic Chesnutt, Ralph Stanley, Candi Staton, Ryan Adams, Lambchop, Exene Cervenka of X, and the Waco Brothers for the album Great Chicago Fire in 2012.
Though Fevers will make new fans and excite longtime listeners, it also neatly fits into Burch’s oeuvre, an ongoing exploration into how American music is constantly reshaping itself. “I had no idea artists in Nashville weren’t also writers, producers, arrangers, and bandleaders for their own work,” says Burch. “I took a different path—and sometimes I was an outsider. But it’s paid off I think. I’m free to take chances. I’m always looking for something that can expand my writing voice and scares the wits out of me.”
As a writer and an interpreter, Burch gravitates towards endeavors that can push his work into unknown territory. He’s composed music for novels (Last of My Kind based on Tony Earley’s Jim the Boy), served as a film consultant (PBS’ The Appalachians), and in September will appear on Hip Hop for Public Health’s Songs for a Healthier America, an innovative collaboration between musicians and public health advocates supported by Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign. Burch also received a GRAMMY nomination for his contribution to the comeback album for Charlie Louvin (Charlie Louvin). And Burch’s tribute to Buddy Holly, Words of Love, led to a friendship and a new fan in Holly’s widow, Maria Elena. “Words of Love is a beautiful album,” said Maria Elena. “He has everything Buddy wanted to hear in an artist–his own style and his own sound.” David Olney’s Predicting the Past, produced by Burch and recorded with members of the WPA Ballclub, is due out in 2014.
Fevers continues Burch and the WPA Ballclub’s efforts to bring a revolution of sorts to their sound—sonically and lyrically—that began with Still Your Man and the opening of Burch’s analog studio, Pan American Sound.
Fevers includes 10 Burch compositions along with a combustible reading of I’m Going to Memphis, by Memphis Slim, first heard on the Alan Lomax album, Blues In the Mississippi Night, once again connecting Burch to the deep and tangled roots that drive his sound.
Peter Guralnick, author of biographies on Elvis Presley (Last Train to Memphis & Careless Love) and Sam Cooke (Dream Boogie) says: “I’m a Paul Burch fan. How could I not be? His music never fails to achieve its purpose, what Sun Records founder Sam Phillips has deemed the unequivocal purpose of every kind of music: to lift up, to deepen, to intensify the spirit of audience and musicians alike.”
Fevers is available on vinyl and CD at Plowboy Records.
PAST TOUR DATES:
November 8- Ashland Tea & Coffee, Ashland VA
November 9- Gypsy Sally’s, Washington DC
November 10- Tin Angel, Philadelphia, PA
November 11- Cafe Nine, New Haven, CT
November 12- Atwood’s, Cambridge, MA
November 13- Parlor Room, Northampton, MA
November 14- Rockwood Music Hall (Stage 2), New York, NY
November 15- Burning Bridge, Lancaster, PA
November 16- Elk Creek Cafe, Millheim, PA
November 20- Music City Roots, Nashville, TN (Plowboy Records Event)