plus LEGENDS OF COUNTRY
Karl Blau is a multi-instrumentalist, singer, and DIY icon who helped turn his hometown of Anacortes, Washington, into an indie-music mecca. He has released more than 40 records in 20-odd years, many self-released in handmade packaging and mailed to subscribers, and others on iconic indie Northwest labels K and knw-yr-own. Blau has also toured and recorded for years with Laura Veirs, the Microphones, Little Wings, D+, and Earth.
Tucker Martine, known for his distinctive production work on music by My Morning Jacket, the Decembrists, and Laura Veirs, recalled first being introduced by Veirs to Blau’s early music. “I was transfixed by Karl’s voice and completely absorbed by the world of sound he had created. I felt like I had been shown one of the great hidden treasures of music.”
A few years later, Martine recorded an instrumental version of “That’s How I Got to Memphis,” the 1969 Tom T. Hall hit. Blau, whom Tucker had come to know in sessions with Laura Veirs among others, asked if he could try singing it. “By now I knew what a special artist Karl was but I had no idea what a powerful interpreter of songs he was,’ Martine says. The collaboration, pairing Karl’s deeply sonorous voice with Martine’s warm, modern arrangements, recast the Nashville hit in a new light. “He was able to communicate the essence of the song in such a moving way that we started dreaming of making a whole record based around our excitement for that collaboration.” The result was the single and, now, Introducing Karl Blau.
The record, all covers, is a crate-digger’s feast of forgotten hits and deeper cuts, most of them from the Nashville country-soul renaissance in the late 1960s and early 70s – Tom T. Hall, Bobby Bond, Allen Reynolds. Other songs are from the Bee Gees (To Love Somebody), Link Wray (Fallin’ Rain), or Townes Van Zandt (If I Needed You). The project was a labor of love for Martine, the son of a Nashville songwriter who grew up listening to many of these songs.
Martine and Blau worked for years on shaping the narrative of the record. “I feel like I am starring in this country-western movie, written and produced by Tucker, and it tells a story,” says Blau of this collection. A sense of emergence from the shadows of loss, loneliness, infidelity, and melancholy runs through the record. “There is a narrative running through every song,” says Blau. “My character is moving through this dark place, but there is always this light of hope.”
As for the title, Introducing Karl Blau, Martine says “In spite of Karl’s prolific catalog of records I still feel that not nearly enough people have had the opportunity to hear this man. With any luck this album will help change that.”
Introducing Karl Blau is released through Bella Union on May 13.