Mixing up cultures suits Paul Burch just fine
By MARY HOULIHAN For Sun-Times Media February 4, 2014 1:14PM
Considered a modern-day Jimmie Rogers, Paul Burch will make a rare Chicago appearance Feb. 6. | PHOTO BY MELISSA FULLER
With Angela James,
When: 9 p.m. Feb. 6
Where: The Hideout,
1354 W. Wabansia
Info: (773) 227-4433;
Updated: April 14, 2014 4:38PM
Nashville musician Paul Burch always has taken a cross-cultural approach to music. There’s no better proof of this than his new album, “Fevers,” which moves from classic country to R&B and rockabilly with strains of Cajun and Latin thrown in the mix.
Burch admits this time around he never had a “central concise idea” for the album’s sound. The result has more of a feel “of what I might listen to in a typical week,” he adds.
“Usually the temperature of a record is decided by the first group of songs that I feel are strong enough to take into the studio,” Burch says. “This one really didn’t have that, and I found it very refreshing. It felt OK not to worry about making an album that would seem really solidified by a certain idea.”
Recorded live to tape at Burch’s home studio with a collective of musicians he calls the WPA Ballclub, “Fevers” features a roster of fine originals plus covers of “Ocean of Tears,” originally recorded by Tennessee Ernie Ford (here a duet with Kelly Hogan), and Memphis Slim’s “I’m Going to Memphis.” The album was released by Plowboy Records, a Nashville indie label founded by former Dead Boy Cheetah Chrome, author Don Cusic and Shannon Pollard, grandson of country legend Eddy Arnold.
Plowboy showcases eclectic tastes, which makes “Fevers,” his ninth album, a perfect fit for the label. Burch gives a lot of credit to the musicians working with him in the studio.
“It’s important to be open to experimentation,” the 48-year-old Burch says. “The players in the Ballclub all have individual styles so it gives me a sense of freedom when I’m writing to create something with a wide scope because I know I’ll find someone in the band who likes a certain type of music and can hook onto it.”
Burch doesn’t often tour so it’s a treat when he comes to town. At The Hideout, he’ll be on guitar and piano with Dominic Davis on upright bass and Tommy Perkinson on drums.
With his warm, twangy voice, Burch has been called a modern day Jimmie Rodgers. His vocals are the thread that connects the diversity of songs on “Fevers” that include the honky-tonk groove of “Straight Tears, No Chaser,” the Bo Diddley beat of “Couldn’t Get a Witness,” the Bob Wills swing of “Saturday Night Jamboree,” the Cajun flavored “Sac Au Lait (Acadia’s Song)” and the Latin-tinged “Sagrada.”
“Cluck Old Hen,” the Appalachian folk standard that opens the album,” is an example of how Burch likes to work with his musician friends in the studio. A fan of Indian film director Satyajit Ray, Burch conceives the song as an interesting hybrid, a sort of Appalachian raga, outlined by pianist Jen Gunderman’s harmonium.
Gunderman had just bought the harmonium and didn’t really know to play it for a session, but Burch encouraged her to bring it along anyway. He had faith she would find her way into it and the result is intriguing.
“I love how certain instruments awaken something in you,” Burch explains. “I like the idea of music as a kind of cinematic background. Once the flavor of a song is satisfied, it’s fun to put in an instrument that normally wouldn’t go with that type of music if you were going to do it ‘properly.’ That’s when you really start to have some fun.”