The Trick Is To Breathe is first solo album by Sid Griffin (the Coal Porters, the Long Ryders) in a decade. Recorded in Nashville, Tenn. at the home studio of Thomm Lutz in February 2014 over four days, the album will be released in the U.S. on September 16, 2014 on Prima Records throughBurnside Distribution.
When Sid Griffin started recording 30 years ago the term Americana was unheard of. Now he is considered one of the genre’s founding fathers. With the now legendary Long Ryders he crossed punk’s spirit with country music chops and pioneered cowpunk and alt-country. Currently a Coal Porter playing acoustic music, Griffin now uses bluegrass instrumentation to play original folk/Celtic songs. “It is the familiar heard anew,” he says.
“Before Christmas I had sent some Nashville friends acoustic demos of my songs and of my new arrangement of a version of the Youngbloods’ great “Get Together,” recalls Griffin, a Kentucky native who has spent the past two decades living in London. “These men and women had learned the songs off my demos and most of the songs we recorded were second takes. In fact these players are so accomplished I don’t think any track was recorded in more than four takes.”
After recording in the U.K. for most of the past two decades, Sid decided to do everything differently from his last solo album, As Certain as Sunrise. “I recorded in the U.S. instead of Europe, I did not engineer, co-produce nor mix the album. On a few tracks I only sang, I put myself entirely in the hands of others, I did not use any of the Coal Porters’ vast musical talents, I primarily used musicians I had not met before the sessions and I enjoyed myself thoroughly. Without question it was time for a change — time to shake things up.”
As promoters and venues were frequently contacting Griffin about solo shows, it became obvious that it was time for some new Sid solo music. Yet the multi-tasking Griffin, a musician first, a writer second, a broadcaster third and, oh yes, a family man on top of all that, didn’t have much time to spare to record. “You can spend weeks doing an album. Both my previous solo albums were done piecemeal —recorded in bits here and then bits there over weeks. I needed to get an album done quickly.”
“Billy Bragg told me his last album was recorded by Joe Henry in just a few days out in Pasadena, Calif.and I remembered Dylan did Nashville Skyline in only a few days. So I contacted some Nashville cats I knew, they recommended Thomm Jutz as a producer, and he and I hit it off. Thom picked most of the players. And by the time I flew to Tennessee these folks knew my songs better than I did. Hence we started on Monday and were done by Thursday.”
Sid did play mandolin on two tracks, guitar on about six more, but the core of the band was Mark Fain fromRicky Skaggs’ Kentucky Thunder outfit on bass, the virtuoso Sierra Hull on mandolin, Paul Griffiths on drums, Thomm Jutz on guitar, Justin Moses on banjo, fiddle and dobro, and gospel legend James T. Brown on backing vocals. Other than Jutz and Griffiths none had met Sid before the sessions began.
The Trick Is To Breathe announces Sid Griffin is back on the world stage as a solo artist, globetrotting troubadour and singer-songwriter. “I am in a good space as the saying goes and The Trick Is To Breathe is going to help keep me there. Yes, I am an American who lives in Europe but my heart resides south of theMason-Dixon and it shows on this album. I can’t wait to tread the boards again and play these songs for the people.”
In his vast spare time, Griffin recently authored liner notes for Bob Dylan’s The Basement Tapes Complete,part of Sony Legacy’s Bootlegs series.
Sid Griffin on the songs:
1. Ode to Bobbie Gentry — I was thinking about Bobbie Gentry and how she simply walked away from it all and what a fantastic story that remains. It occurred to me the only way to tell the tale was by the almost-spoken story song method she used to such great effect.
2. Blue Yodel no. 12 & 35 — Jimmie Rodgers, the Singing Brakeman, was a star shining brightly in the late 1920s till the Great Depression drove his sales down and TB drove him down. Bob Dylan was a sizeable Jimmie Rodgers fan and so am I. This led me to wonder what would happen if you crossed their two musical styles. And the answer is in this song … you get a tune which sounds like Willie Nelson!
3. Circle Bar — Written for the Long Ryders when I thought we were to reunite in the studio in the late 1990s. It is the story of one of our dear New Orleans friends who is no longer with us. As we grow older the death of beloved peers hits us harder and harder and you find yourself with more yesterdays than tomorrows.
4 Between the General & the Grave — Listening to bluegrass and reading poetry from the first World War will give you some pretty tunes and some pretty strong lyrics. At the risk of sounding even more foolish than usual I can say I appreciate this song though I suspect it will never be a hit single for anyone. Ever.
5. Elvis Presley Calls His Mother After The Ed Sullivan Show — You can blame the Beat Poets for this one. Imagine a Beat Poet like McClure or Ferlinghetti being hired to write pop songs in the Brill Buildingright about the time The King is first rockin’ the nation. Perhaps they’d come up with something like this.
6. Everywhere — Written largely by my pal Greg Trooper with some help from me and recorded beautifully by him and also done very well by Billy Bragg. Remember the scenario in the song could happen again today.
7. Get Together — Written by Dino Valenti. If his name is unfamiliar I encourage you to look him up. One of the greatest song lyrics of all time as far as I am concerned. And a message we still haven’t heeded. C’mon, people, now!
8. Front Porch Fandango — Written for the Coal Porters but before I could play it to them I was fooling around with it in the Tennessee studio of producer Thomm Jutz and he said “what’s that?” I told him it wasDevo playing a bluegrass riff. He stared at me hard for a moment and said, “Let’s record it, one mike, right now … go get Sierra Hull and Justin Moses from outside and tell ’em to get ready to pick.” You gotta love Nashville.
9. Punk Rock Club — A poem I wrote from comments I heard one sweaty night at a punk rock show years ago. I scribbled these actual comments on an electricity bill envelope I had in my pocket and then added theSegovia quote to help tie it all together. Most of this folks in the audience actually said aloud that night as a rather famous SoCal punk group performed.
10. Who’s Got a Broken Heart — “Me” is the answer. At least at the time I wrote the song I did. No, it is not in standard tuning.
11. We’ve Run Out of Road — Coal Porter Neil Herd says this when a song has run its logical course and I heard the same phrase again from a buddy when we got lost going to a bluegrass festival in Kentucky.
12. I’ll Forget You Very Well — Wordplay from me and an excuse to try to be witty while my fellow musicians show off some awesome chops. And awesome is the operative word if you ask me.