On Introducing Karl Blau, released 13th May on Bella Union, the enigmatic vocalist charts a new vision of country music. A Northwest indie hero, Blau channels darkness and hope in a cinematic collection of Nashville country hits from the 60’s and 70’s. Produced by Tucker Martine, the record features performances by Jim James (My Morning Jacket), Laura Veirs, Jon Hyde, Eli Moore (Lake), Steve Moore (Earth, SunnO)))), among others.
It all started with cutting a 7” single, a cover of the 1969 Tom T. Hall hit “That’s How I Got to Memphis”. Blau, whom Martine had come to know from sessions with Laura Veirs among others, asked if he could try singing it. “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 Blau’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.
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. A sense of emergence from the shadows of loss, loneliness, infidelity, and melancholy runs through Introducing Karl Blau. “We’ve threaded a story through the record,” says Blau. “My character is moving through this dark place, but there is always this light of hope.”
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 labour of love for Martine, the son of a Nashville songwriter who grew up listening to many of these songs.
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.”
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 Decemberists, and Laura Veirs, was first introduced to Blau’s early music by Veirs. “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.”
Introducing Karl Blau was released 13th May 2016 on Bella Union.