Brian Charles, of James Curry renown, has released Border Town, his solo debut. Damned good stuff. Sounds like the whole thing may’ve been done in one take. That’s the raw quality of its authentic grit. There’s no polish. Just stark vocals backed by sparse, acoustic guitar: Dust Bowl folk music dyed in the proverbial wool.
James Curry is Charles on second guitar and most of the vocals, with Casey Fearing on lead guitar and mostly backup vocals. The duo’s albums A Brand New Suit and 13 similarly cut it close to the bone, enlisting just enough sidemen to flesh out the sound. Border Town breaks it down to, as it were, the marrow, as Brian Charles purely follows his heart. “Frankie Doesn’t Live Here” puts you in mind of Dylan, way back before he went electric. Pitiless poetry, it’s sardonic words set to homespun music with lines like “The cops have all gone fishing/ Frank’s been shooting the dice/ Momma stays up wishing/ Wishing it will turn out right/ Daddy’s out there a-drinking/ Staying up late at night” and “The monkey’s off your back/ Frankie doesn’t live here anymore/ So, he sold all his treasure/ He sold all his lies/ Somewhere in the distance/ They hear his momma cry.”
The press release for Border Town reads, “This artist expresses the daily battles of life’s journey. Characters come alive in Border Town songs to tell stories from…a woman with broken Hollywood dreams to weeping mothers saying goodbye to their boys as they go to war; these ballads deal with the realities of everyday life.” True enough, you find yourself fascinated by what Brian Charles is saying and the way it says it, in utterly down-to-earth song.
How long’d it take to record Border Town and how’d you like the studio where’d you do it?
The recording process took about a year. [It] was mastered by Joe Mabott at Hideaway studios. Most of the tracks were recorded in a rented mobile home outfitted with a professional system. This enabled me to record the songs at any moment any time of day. It really helped to create the emotional connect I was trying to obtain.
You know the first thing that pops into James Curry fans’ heads: Have things soured between you and Casey?
James Curry is still going strong. Casey and I just finished recording a live DVD, Live at the Ritz. A fall release will be coming. We took a break from performing this summer to concentrate on the DVD. Fall gigs are currently being lined up.
What prompted you to up and do a solo album?
Well, I consider myself a songwriter at heart. I tend to be constantly writing and working on different compositions. One day I noticed I had around 30 songs that didn’t seem to have a home. A song is sort of a living entity. I couldn’t bare the thought of having them fade away and turn into a distant melody.
Is all the material new, or had some of it been laying around for awhile?
Some songs came quick and intense, some songs a slow burn. But they were all written in the past two years.
How pleased are you with Border Town?
I am extremely pleased.
Got plans for another solo outing?
Well, I already have another 20 songs, which may be my best work to date. We will see what the winds have in mind.
How’d you decide which songs to bring to James Curry and which to do by yourself?
I gave Casey a demo of the CD. Told him to give a listen and let me know if he felt a James Curry vibe would work with any of [them]. We have been performing a killer version of “Maria Monroe” and “We Try” at James Curry shows.
Dwight Hobbes is a writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the Daily Planet. Disclaimer: He opened for James Curry a couple of times some years ago.
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