One of America’s great indie heroes, Karl Blau’s name should be familiar to anyone who’s ever fallen hard for the scratched genius of K Records, the legendary Olympia, Washington record label who’ve put out records by everyone from The Microphones to Beck, Beat Happening and Modest Mouse (Kurt Cobain had their logo tattooed on his forearm too, incidentally).
An eclectic artist who’s played upwards of 1000 live shows and released countless albums over the last two decades (many on K and K affiliates), Blau’s latest project marks a clean break for him. Called ‘Introducing Karl Blau’, it’s a rich and beautifully crafted collection of country-soul style covers – his first foray into the genre.
Just check this epic, nine-minute retelling of Link Wray’s doomy 1971 masterpiece ‘Fallin’ Rain’, which you could easily place alongside Sturgill Simpson’s take on Nirvana’s ‘In Bloom’ in the great country covers of 2016 league:
Recorded alongside REM and Neko Case producer Tucker Martine (the Nashville son of country legend Layng Martine, Jr), ‘Introducing’ is out tomorrow via Bella Union. Today, we’ve got another cover from it – ‘To Love Somebody’, which was originally written by the Bee Gees in their pre-disco phase. It’s like a tripartite meeting of the Gibb brothers’ original, Nina Simone’s sprightly late 60s cover and Eric Burdon from The Animals’ ripped 1968 rendition.
Plus, below the video read Blau’s take on how the album came together. It’s been a seven year project, ultimately, and as he says rather evocatively: “All of these tunes fit together in the story of the stranger who walks alone at night. it’s a look inside his head as he moves through the darkness”.
Here’s ‘To Love Somebody’:
And here’s Karl Blau, on how ‘Introducing Karl Blau’ came about:
“‘Introducing’ had been in the works in spirit for something like seven years when I finally got the call from friend/producer Tucker Martine, telling me that some open studio time had surfaced and we should rally the troops – session players/deep buds. Not that the idea of country/soul tunes was fleshed out in those conversations – that was just the point he pitched the notion.
“The album’s opening track, ‘That’s How I Got To Memphis’, we actually finished half a dozen years previously. For this Tom T. Hall tune, Tucker laid the basics down sometime in the early 2000s with a couple of the same guys who would create ‘Introducing’: Steve Moore on keys, Jon Hyde on guitar and Tucker drumming.
“After that first single (which would see the light of day as a single from International Pop Underground series in 2008 – K release IPU118), neither of us could shake the thought of how easy and fun it was to make. If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it – we used this gathering of low-lying fruit as a template. Following this first thought, Tucker went to town, sending me tracks to demo back to him; all in the ilk of country and soul tunes.
“In choosing the collection, Tucker drew from cuts that would play to my baritone range and pay homage to his roots growing up as the son of a successful Nashville songwriter. Tucker’s father, Layng Martine, Jr. wrote Billy ‘Crash’ Craddock’s Number 1 hit ‘Rub It In’, Elvis’s last Number 1 hit ‘Way Down’, and The Pointer Sisters’ Top 10 hit ‘Should I Do It?’, among many other tunes that would be recorded by the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Reba MacEntire. ‘Let The World Go By’, track 4 on ‘Introducing’, is a Layng Martine, Jr song – notice the subtle but profound lyrical passages, especially in the bridge, and the depth of “Bad is not for good, you know? / And no man owns The Sun…”. Incredible lyrics.
“Eventually, we whittled down the set of songs from 30 to 18 or so, and then the session chose which of those would get recorded, leaving a couple on the cutting room floor. Mostly Martine was at the helm behind the drums, calling the shots, etc. But ‘Fallin’ Rain’ was literally the first time the group sat down and played it following the vision of guitar chording master Eli Moore – the smell of this version is Eli’s all the way, harkening to his Palisades sound he coined on Whidbey Island in the early 2000s.
“‘Woman (Sensuous Woman)’ is a perfect pop song sing-a-long that everyone can relate to – the sound of Don Gibson’s original version we just wanted to nestle into ourselves. Of course, it sounds very different with the velvety Martine touch. Notice the bass drum left out of the verse, what a great device – so powerful when it re-enters during the choruses. ‘Six White Horses’ was a tough one for me. I kept wanting to do an extra-warbled voice for the strong emotion I feel with this tune. It took a lot of vocal takes to relax enough to get this still melodramatic version that made the cut. ‘To Love Somebody’ we made out of hybridizing the Nina Simone version and the Bee Gees version.
“All of these tunes fit together in the story of the stranger who walks alone at night. It’s a look inside his head as he moves through the darkness. We see in the back of his mind that he knows of the inevitability of the sunrise – it is hope that we may all empathise with.”
Karl Blau tours the UK later this year:
31st August – Glasgow, The Hug and Pint
1st September – Manchester, The Castle
2nd September – Dorset, End of the Road festival
3rd September – Laois, Other Voices @ Electric Picnic
4th September – Leeds, Headrow House
6th September – London, The Lexington
7th September – Brighton, The Latest Music Bar
8th September – Hastings, Printworks