Folk Magik Presents Scott Hirsch, Evan Thomas Way and the Phasers
Tue, May 24 at 9pm
To the wandering soul, the promise of travel, the motion of the road, and necessary transience instils a love of the novel experience and fortifies the restless spirit. But when travel is no longer possible, when ‘the road’ becomes the familiar paths around your town and home, is there the time and space to create a new kind of journey? When else would we go inward, by choice or practice, then when the world shuts down around us and we are left with the thoughts and melodies in our heads?
You’ve heard Scott Hirsch’s work already even if you didn’t know it. He’s been the magic man behind so many records over the last couple decades-as producer, engineer, and multi instrumentalist. He is the ‘other half’, the Yin to Mc Taylor’s Yang in Hiss Golden Messenger and their previous group, The Court and Spark. He helmed the grammy nominated record by legendary folk singer Alice Gerrard. He’s worked with iconic California outsiders like the Mother Hips’ Greg Loicano and Orpheo McCloud. He’s also a master of film sound, doing the mixes on a number of lauded indie releases including Hannah Jayanti’s documentary “Truth or Consequences”, with a score by Bill Frisell. Hirsch is finding himself the nexus point of a burgeoning recording and arts scene in Ojai, California, the small mountain town where he and his family call home now.
I am biased. Scott is not only a great friend, but my favorite and most trusted collaborator. When I was asked to compose the music for Kelly Reichardt’s oneiric Western ‘First Cow’, I knew Scott was the only one that could help me get it right. His sense of aesthetics, technique, trust, and decisiveness is frankly pretty rare to meet in someone. One of the things I have loved most about living in Los Angeles has been the knowledge that if I ever have the budget and the time, I can drive two hours north to Ojai and the cozy confines of Hirsch’s Echo Magic studios, and we always come out with ‘something.’ I see his studio and scene as almost a kind of Muscle Shoals West, at least for those of us inspired by the hazy canyon music of seventies weirdoes.
One of the great gifts of the last few years has been hearing and observing Hirsch evolve and flourish as a solo artist. His songwriting and singing chops are every bit as warm, familiar and eccentric as his longtime collaborator MC Taylor, and his albums, both under the moniker Blue Rider Songs and lately his own name, evoke that kind of ‘tastes just right’ insularity and micro universe that heads old and new seek out in the catalogues of JJ Cale, Curtis Mayfield, Ry Cooder, Lee Perry and Harold Budd.
Evan Thomas Way’s career as the frontman for the Parson Red Heads has made the warmth of his voice synonymous with the band’s hope-filled songs. This is why his new solo record is a surprise. While maintaining the layered guitar harmonies and the gentleness of his voice, the songs on “Long Distance” are darker and more deeply personal. The songs were written throughout Evan’s life and recorded secretly as a gift for his wife. Evan is joined by The Phasers—Raymond Richards (who co-produced the record along with Evan and plays electric guitar and pedal steel), Adam Beam (drums), and Alex Chapman (bass), with support from Michael Blake (keys), Eric Earley (organ) and Ben Latimer (saxophone). The result is an album of astonishing intimacy.
The lyrics walk the line between dogged hope and the weariness of daily life. They are the stories of those who are torn between giving up and pressing on. The album resists providing a definitive answer. “Don’t fall away,” Evan encourages his listeners—“there’s a number on your life,” but later on the album he resigns himself to the realization that “all that was nonsense the moment I woke.” This honesty makes for an album of fragile transparency, giving space to the doubts that haunt us all.
The weight of these lyrics is buoyed by the album’s splendid music. The melodies are immediately approachable, some sounding like long-forgotten lullabies. Their simplicity is supported by the tight textures of the band. The guitar hooks are bright and layered with harmony. The organ and keys are rich in reverb. The organic textures of phasers provide a touch of psychedelic. Especially satisfying is when Ben Latimer’s saxophone winds its away around Evan’s falsetto in the songs “Gone” and “Change Your Mind.” The band’s self-described goal was “Neil Young by way of shoegaze.” It is a sound they have mastered effortlessly.
Through both the honest emotions of an ordinary life and the comfort of melody and harmony, Evan has given his listeners an album with which to make sense of their own lives. His lyrics provide a voice for those who are hurting while his music is a comfort for those who are healing. Immediately accessible, yet unfolding the true strength of its songwriting and musicianship over subsequent listens, “Long Distance” is a small jewel.