Mark Olson - Many Colored Kite
The sun-soaked political reggae of Bob Marley certainly isn't the most obvious parallel to make when discussing the music of folk troubadour Mark Olson, but while discussing the song "Kingsnake" from his upcoming solo album, Many Colored Kite, Olson makes a compelling argument:
"I really like Bob Marley's lyrical attitudethe way he forcefully delivers his lyrics means everything to him. When I first heard him, I must have been nineteen or something; it was all very mysterious to me, and I didn't get it then. But as time's gone by, I realize that he's very direct. He has a point of view and a philosophy, and though my point of view and my philosophy are different, I try to be direct like that."
This philosophical directness has been a constant in a career that's spanned a quarter century. As a founding member and principal singer/songwriter of The Jayhawks, Olson spent a decade at the front of the alt-country movement, until leaving the bandand the familiar environs of Minneapolisin 1995, for the California desert.
While The Jayhawks were experimenting with pop and rock influences and earning mainstream appeal, Olson wanted to strip back down to the essentials. He formed The Creekdippers with then-wife Victoria Williams and violinist Mike Russell, paring his brand of timeless folk down to a desert roots ramble.
After a decade with The Creekdippers, Olson left the desert for the train cars of Europe, creating what would become his 2007 solo debut, The Salvation Blues, a poetic rumination on redemption that earned him comparisons to the likes of Gram Parsons and Bob Dylan.
During that journey, he reconnected with former Jayhawks partner Gary Louris and in 2009 they released their first album together in fourteen years, Ready For The Flood.
Many Colored Kite is both a culmination of everything that came before it, and an exploration of uncharted waters. Recorded over a month's time in Portland with producer/engineer Beau Raymond (Chris Robinson, Devendra Banhart), the album finds Olson embracing a decidedly brighter path towards the future, exploring themes of freedom and struggle, isolation and belonging, spirituality and love.
He translates that idea of Bob Marley's lyrical directness into a beautiful simplicity of expression, creating "little moral stories," as he calls them. Album opener "Little Bird Of Freedom," which features folk-jazz chanteuse Jolie Holland, is an acknowledgement of both personal and universal struggle, which the title track, written at a park in Oslo, Norway, takes a step further. "To me, a 'many colored kite' is the idea that instead of having a restrictive world, let's have an inclusive one, where it's good for people to have different ideas, different faiths, different languages."
Olson also turns inward. There's "Your Life Beside Us," about "a spiritual longing for good in one's life," and the lush, string-laden "Beehive," calling upon his love of metaphor to describe the evolution of religion into a destructive, rather than healing force. Most surprising is "Morning Dove," a "miracle song" inspired by a flock of doves that appeared right as he finished building his home. It marks the first time in his entire career that Olson performs completely solo and acoustic. "I've always been in bands or groups; I've always liked playing off of other people," he says. "But this song seemed so direct and personal, that I just went for it."
A message of positivity weaves through Many Colored Kite, offering up a nearly radiant version of Olson that not only hearkens back to his Creekdippers days, but also looks forward to the future of folk. There's the sweetly melodic "No Time To Live Without Her," inspired by the simple love songs of the '60s, featuring ethereal harmonies from influential British folksinger Vashti Bunyan. "Bluebell Song," inspired by flowers dotted along miles of Texas highway, recounts the experience of sharing those slices of Americana with his two international bandmates, Norwegian singer and multi-instrumentalist Ingunn Ringvold and Italian violinist Michele Gazich.
The experience of being on the road with people close to him is what ultimately shapes the narrative of the album. In this case, thousands of miles spent in vans, trains, and planes for The Salvation Blues led to the creation of Many Colored Kite. "It was more than a bandIngunn was my girlfriend and Michele was this guy whose company I really enjoyedand the way to keep that going was to write a new album together."
So you have the Laurel Canyon vibe of "Wind And Rain," borne from a lonely drive through rural Nebraska and the urge to pull over and stage an impromptu performance on a small-town bandstand. There's "More Hours," a sweet retelling of a conversation between Olson and Ringvold on a desert road. And the freak folk echoes of "Scholastica," about meeting a nun of the same name in New Mexico.
Ultimately, Many Colored Kite is a statement album. It's Mark Olson acknowledging the past, but making a conscious decision to lift up and continue his journey forward. "Let's face itI worked hard on this record. I put everything I had into this one. I tried to play my best, sing my best, and write my best. I want this to look towards the future, and I hope our story goes on."
Like many artists before him, Cory Chisel first connected with the power of song and the spellbinding possibilities of live performance through the music he heard in church. The gospel's rich vernacular of loss and redemption also informed his innate poetic sense and lyrical range. "For most of my life," he says, "my dad was a Baptist minister, so I learned a lot about being a showman, and I learned a lot about music. Many of the hymns from church still are the most beautiful songs I know. I'm thankful for growing up where stories and the pursuit of happiness were on everybody's mind. I think I'm still trying to achieve the same euphoria I felt at a very young age, when I would be completely taken over by these rhythms and these sounds and these stories."
An equally potent influence on Chisel's worldview and wellspring of musical storytelling is the American heartland from which he hails. Based in Appleton, WI, where he's lived for almost twenty years. His family's roots, on both sides, reach about 500 miles north and west to Babbitt, Minnesota and neighboring Ely, beside the pristine Boundary Waters, the largest wilderness preserve east of the Rockies. The vast, open spaces and clear, deep lakes of the wild north are ingrained in Chisel's songs, which sound as if they come to him as naturally as breathing.
In an upbringing where he was largely sheltered from pop music, Chisel's fluency with music comes in great measure from always having played it with his family, for as long as he can remember. One of his grandfathers had nine brothers and, he notes, "they're all great guitar players, and half of them play harmonica too." He also cites his Uncle Roger, a blues musician whose epic record collection exposed him to Howlin' Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Robert Johnson, Johnny Cash, Tom Waits, Bob Dylan and countless others as a chief source of inspiration. "He was a musical force," says Cory. "I always felt like I possessed something similar, that I understood the exorcism I saw him receiving through music."
Death Won't Send A Letter, Chisel's full-length debut for Black Seal Records, is a dark and urgent rock and roll vision. It takes a romantic albeit gutsy stance on the meaning of love and spirituality, as the songs seek to make sense of the world outside and human desires within reconciling the call of the road and a longing for home, literally and figuratively. With Grammy-winning producer Joe Chiccarelli (The Shins, The White Stripes) at the helm, Cory's songs have transformed into lush and nuanced recordings that never sacrifice his emotional vulnerability or his rich and unique vocal tone.
The songs on Death Won't Send A Letter were recorded primarily at Blackbird Studios in Nashville, TN with Chisel's backing vocalist/keyboard player Adriel Harris and "Little Jack" Lawrence (The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather) on initial tracking. Cory, Adriel and Little Jack were then joined by Jack's longtime collaborator Patrick Keeler (The Raconteurs, The Greenhornes) on drums. With Patrick and Jack's driving rhythm section the albums' sound took on a grittier hue. And in Brendan Benson Cory found a writing and arranging partner that birthed the lead album track "Born Again." Carl Broemel from My Morning Jacket also contributes on guitar.
The album, released on Black Seal/Sony BMG Music, follows up Cory Chisel & the Wandering Sons' 2008 live EP Cabin Ghosts, which Chisel co-produced with Tony Berg.
Cory Chisel and The Wandering Sons' Death Won't Send A Letter will be released September 29th of 2009 in the US.
Read more: http://www.myspace.com/markolsonmusic
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