Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recordings engineered by Brett Allen and Matt Oliver, Mastered by Brett Allen and Sam Patlove
The Middle Brother album was a real thing to me well before it was for most people, aside from those making it. It's sort of a long story, but it says a lot about the album, if not its makers. My friend, Brett Allen, and I met up in Nashville, Tennessee, during the heart of January 2010 to record some sessions at John Prine and Dave Ferguson's Butcher Shoppe Studio, in an old meat-packing plant near the river, near the downtown, and the following day at one of the hundreds of inconspicuous home studios that litter Music City. You cannot drive half a block without being next to the mailbox of a residence whose insides have been gutted and fitted out with a state-of-the-art recording space. Brett picked me up from the airport and we drove directly to Brendan Benson's house, where we drank a touch too much wine, played with his cat, scanned his bookcase, ate the pizzas and salads that his lovely wife brought home from work for us and recorded a handful of his songs. We went from there to a late-night hang with our buddies in Roman Candle, who were so good to us that they actually kicked themselves out of their own bed, we deduced later, so that we could have beds. The next morning was meeting Dawes lead singer Taylor Goldsmith and Jonny Corndawg at a coffeehouse before heading over to Ferraby Lionheart's home to wake up Deer Tick's John McCauley, to drag him over to Prine's studio, if for no better reason than to watch as the Del McCoury Band and the late Charlie Louvin taped sessions. McCauley, on just a few hours of sleep, had been operating on an opposite time schedule than the one that Goldsmith was used to, as the latter was trying to cut his night's off at their logical folds when he could. Most nights it didn't work, as those last drinks came later and later. At this point in his month-long stay in Nashville, Goldsmith was still excited about what they were creating and especially the process of it, but everyone involved was running ragged. McCauley curled up on the couch at Prine's place, napping during the afternoon, before an early dinner of BBQ, before we all hustled off to the Ryman to see Kris Kristofferson - for Goldsmith, it was sort of an introduction to the Silver Tongued Devil. After the show, we made our way over to the studio where the late night sessions for the Middle Brother album were happening. We dropped McCauley off to pick up his pick-up truck and we headed off for some White Castle sliders - enough for everyone. The backyard studio is about as non-descript as one can get, found down a residential street without a sidewalk, next door to a neighbor who we were told is tow-happy and will have your car carted off if you parked on any inch of his property. We parked in the grass and walked around back to the studio in a converted garage, closing the gate behind us so the dogs couldn't get out. It was a backyard that was wide, sparse and we with an ornamental stone walkway. It was a bit secluded and great for pissing at one in the morning. Delta Spirit's Matt Vasquez, Jason Isbell and Goldsmith's brother Griffin had just left town a few days prior to us getting there, laying down their parts, so we were there hearing the final mixing session of two of the songs on the record. We listened over and over as we heard these three songwriters blend themselves together for the first time. It felt epic and yet, at two or three in the morning, with weariness hitting us, we had to leave. Middle Brother was just getting started for the night, trying to finish an album before everyone had to fly off on their separate ways. **Please note that half of this session was recorded in Nashville, with the songs as new as can be, with just McCauley and Goldsmith playing acoustic guitars in John Prine's studio and the other half was recorded during the week of South By Southwest 2011 in Austin, the morning after the infamous Deervana show. McCauley's hair was freshly dyed and no one was moving quickly.