Close To Home
In 1993 Kansas native Chuck Mead was one of the founding members and front men for the Alternative Country band BR549. Their self-titled 1996 album, the first of seven recordings, produced three charting singles, three Grammy nominations and a Country Music Association Award. The Americana roots music artist released his own solo debut “Journeyman’s Wager” in 2009. Mead produced critically acclaimed tribute albums for Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings and was also Musical Director of the smash Broadway musical “Million Dollar Quartet”. Mead has been “walking the line” between country music and rock n’ roll for the last twenty-five years.
Mead was in Memphis working on Country Music Television’s dramatic series “Sun Records”. This is Mead’s fourth album recorded, at Sam Phillips Recording Service, during his four months there. The album was produced by Matt Ross-Sprang whose credits include Margo Price, Jason Isbell and John Prine. Mead states “I’ve recorded in some cool Nashville studios like the Quonset Hut, RCA Studio B, and the Castle, but there was something almost supernatural about working at Phillips. You could feel Sam’s spirit.” The musicians include Mead, guitars, percussion and vocals; Mark Andrew Miller, bass and vocals; Martin Lynds, drums and percussion; Carco Clave, pedal steel, mandolin and guitar; Rick Steff, keyboards; and guitarists John Paul Keith and producer Ross-Spang.
The album opens with “Big Bear in the Sky” a treble laden hillbilly rocker Mead describes as “Johnny Horton fronting the Sonics…I wanted it to be a Horton-styled history ballad.”
“I’m Not the Man for the Job” is a workingman blues featuring a rocksteady beat. Mead adds “If you look through record stores in Jamaica, they carry a ton of country music, so rocksteady and reggae are not that far apart from country, but there’s some Doug Sahm Tex-Mex ingredients in the song too.”
“My Baby’s Holding It Down” reminds me of Jennings. “Tap Into Your Misery” takes the form of a traditional country music classic while the title track “Close To Home” is a bit edgier. The latter is “about those weird instances,…that makes it seem there’s some cosmic frequency that we’re all on”.
Other highlights include the hillbilly styled “Better Than I Was”; the Chuck Berry inspired “The Man Who Shook the World”; and the relevant “Billy Doesn’t Know He’s Bad”. The Louisiana swamp rocker “Shake” should receive a lot of airplay.
Mead adds “I really wanted to make a record that was a little bit different”. While BR549 sparked the rebirth of Nashville’s Lower Broadway music scene, this recording should turn Memphis on to its Sun Records roots.