Written in a week, recorded in a day. Erich McMann takes us back to the days when boys were boys, girls were girls, and long-haired hippies were not welcome in Nashville.
That was 1969, now in 2012 with technology, bisexuality, and country music sounding like heavy metal, things like songwriting, romance and America’s standing in the world have become clouded. “The Last American Songbook” is a musical document of a time, place and sound that no longer exists.
The story starts in Branson, MO, July 2011. McMann was scheduled for a week of recording with some musician friends, but when the sessions were cancelled he found himself alone in a motel room in the middle of the Ozark Mountains. Inspired by the natural beauty and rural surroundings and by a “Hee-Haw” marathon running on cable TV, McMann used his freshly opened schedule to start writing some songs. One came quickly after visiting the local Wal-Mart and watching a family of traditionally dressed East Indians purchasing clearance priced 4th Of July memorabilia items. The 2nd was inspired by his recent travels along parts of historic Rt. 66. The next came while taking a shower after watching Buck Owens sing one of his classic country hits on TV. After a few days of inspiration and creativity, McMann recalls “It was like a flood-gate of words, images and ideas were unleashed.”
When his musician co-horts returned to town he was nowhere to be found. Their invitations for lunches, get-togethers and jam-sessions went unreturned. McMann was following his muse, with a ten-page vignette about modern day America scribbled on the back of a real-estate contract written in the wee hours of an extremely hot and muggy July night, an emotional response to a recent romantic break-up, and an up-beat country rocker inspired by the next morning’s farm report, McMann realized he had more than half an albums worth of material already written.
While watching an episode of “Austin City Limits” featuring Steve Earle, McMann listened closely how Earle recalled his meeting with songwriter Townes Van Sandt who explained to the young Earle that “every writer needs a scary song written in minor key” before he could have a strong collection of tunes. McMann took heart of what the legendary writer told Earle and realized he didn’t have one in his recent splurge of songs and began improvising a skeleton of a chord progression in a minor key. When trying to think of something scary to write about, he realized the scariest thing he had witnessed recently was the disturbing behavior of one of his child-hood friends! Thus another tune written in the isolated song writing den of his remote Missouri hotel room was born.
When he finally did make an appearance to appease his friend’s curiosity on how he was spending his time, he unapologetically explained he didn’t mean to be rude or unfriendly, he was just writing some songs and was amazed at how easily they were coming, to the point he wrote 3 in one day! When his associates inquired on what type of tunes they were, he replied, “Simple songs, sort of like “The Red River Valley.” One of the musicians, a long-time friend and highly accomplished Jazz guitarist responded, “Why would you want to write anything as rudimentary like “The Red River Valley?” McMann was put off by the flippant response, remembering that at one time the now multi-talented “entertainer” struggled to play the basic chords of “The Red River Valley.” McMann went back to his hotel room and wrote “The Last Song” in response to his friends comment and in tribute to his last night in the creative womb of his temporary living quarters.
Upon returning to Chicago, McMann intended to record the material immediately but had to move into a new house, make a cross country trip to retrieve his musical instruments and find an appropriate studio and musicians to lay down the tracks. McMann recalls, “As I was driving back to Chicago from Branson I knew instinctively I wanted to record the album in a spontaneous, old-school-style manner and environment, I immediately thought of the ‘Smith Brothers.’ Ray & Bob Smith are two friends from way back that I had been doing some jamming with. Bob has a great feel on drums and Ray had a little studio in his apartment, I knew right away I wanted to record this album with them.” Ex-Crickle bassist Tom Vaci was recruited for the session and on a hot summers day 9 songs were recorded live in the small but comfortable living room. Between takes the air-conditioner had to be turned on to prevent the room from turning into a sauna, but as Smith states, “The hot-sticky environment added to the urgency and energy of the recordings. We wanted to get it done quick to get a great feel, but also not to sweat to death!”
McMann returned the next day to add a few guitar parts and record his solo acoustic performance of “The Branson, Mo Blues.” Additional sessions to add pedal steel, fiddle and accordion were quickly scheduled and the album was completed. When asked why he decided to call the album “The Last American Songbook” McMann replies, “I don’t mean to be pretentious, or cautionary. I just don’t think that in 2012, even a country artist would even be allowed to release a record like this by their label. Maybe because of the retro-sound and style that it was recorded? The lyric content? Or the simplicity of the music? I’m not sure. I think an established act would be advised not to release something like this, even if they wanted to as an artist. I’m glad I’m not on a mainstream label, or have management to advise me. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.”
McMann is giving the album away for free to anyone who wants to listen. Stating, “Now-a-days music has less importance in society, taking a back-seat to technology and self-importance. I feel I’m lucky just to have anyone interested in hearing my songs.” Using modern technology to get his music and message across McMann says “I embrace the new means of spreading and sharing music. Heck back in the day I would have to ride in freight train box-cars across the nation to reach as many people as I can now in just one click of a mouse.”
This is the story of “The Last American Songbook.” An album McMann hopes will spread a sentiment of truth, love and the American spirit. “As long as this nation still exists and artists and people are free, I will sing my songs, as a musician and an American.”
released November 11, 2012
Produced by Ray Smith & Erich McMann
Engineered by Ray Smith
Mastered by Larry Schara
Artwork by Kimmy Bess
Bob Smith: Drums & Percussion
Tom Vaci: Bass & Harmony Vocal
Sean Fried: Guitar
Ed Mooney Jr.: Pedal Steel
Felipe Tobar: Fiddle
Mark Baier: Dobro
Jeff Frio: Harmonica
Eddie Torrez: Accordion
Elisa Mcmahon: Backing Vocals
Ray Smith: Backing Vocals
Erich McMann was born on a midwest farm in the 1960’s into a musical family and began picking guitar as a boy. In 2013 his
first solo country & western album "The Last American Songbook" was released to critical acclaim, global airplay and was nominated for 2013 “Song Of The Year” by The Academy of Western Recording Artists. His follow up album “Trucker Country’” will be released in late 2014....more