Edie Brickell

Mom Goes Back to Work

Music Features Edie Brickell
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It doesn’t happen often, but once in a while we run across a song that slyly drops a line on us, effortlessly painting a vivid image of something we’ve all experienced. It’s the kind of line that leaves us grinning and wondering why we haven’t heard it before; one of those subtle touches that makes a good song great.

Edie Brickell opens Volcano, her first record in 10 years, with such an image. On “Rush Around,” she sings “Must have heard the same song twenty times / Mama sang and put the makeup on her eyes / We were getting ready to go / School and the work whistle blow / Everybody had to rush, rush around.”

Brickell wrote the 13 songs on Volcano during a decade in which she gave birth to her and husband Paul Simon’s three children (two boys and a girl, ages 10, 8 and 5). The 37-year-old singer says the album started taking shape during a period when she was flooded with memories of her childhood in Dallas.

Of “Rush Around,” she says, “Every morning, my mom would wake [my sister and I] up with music—rock’n’roll. She would put on whatever song she was into at the time, usually on a record, Aretha Franklin, Al Green, Otis Redding, Chaka Kahn. We had one bathroom, and she would hog the bathroom gettin’ ready for work, sitting there puttin’ on her makeup for an hour. It was back in the ’70s, when she wore tons and tons of makeup. We would run in and out and she’d say, ‘Put that song back on.’—she would be hooked on one record, like [Green’s] Tired of Being Alone. It was before you had repeat buttons. She’d play that song and sing along with it.”

“Rush Around” is an absolute jewel on an album that marks a rather stunning comeback by the former leader of late-’80s hippie act the New Bohemians. A shimmering record that skips from folk to jazz to rock, Volcano marks the singer’s first full-fledged return to the studio since the birth of her first child. Despite the time away, it finds the breathy-voiced songbird singing confidently, sounding sweet, cool and divine on heart-tugging songs full of love and nostalgia.

Over the years, Brickell never stopped writing, and was even convening each summer with the New Bohemians for a few days of jamming, a little casual writing here and there, and even an occasional show (sometimes played under fake names, including the Sausage Link or the Super Elastic Wasteband).

But when the band tried to record new material together, it simply wasn’t “happening enough to really go for it,” she says. “I was thinking, ‘If I can’t make a good record with them, I’m not gonna do it again. We had our time and that’s that, and in the meantime, I’ll just keep playing and see what happens.’ And I was okay with that, because I had the life I wanted. I had a beautiful family life, and I was very happy, ’cause I still got to play.”

One day in a hotel lobby, Brickell ran into drummer Steve Gadd, with whom both she and Simon had previously recorded. Gadd convinced her to return to the studio with him and experiment a little to see what would happen. With Brickell’s interest in jazz intensifying—even taking jazz guitar lessons—and with Gadd noted for his work in jazz, as well as pop and rock, things meshed.

“I saw how effortless it could be. I played him the song ‘Volcano’ once or twice, he liked it and it was happening. His drumming had spirit and imagination; I didn’t know that a drummer could play so melodically.”

Uninterested in making a commercially-minded radio record and weary from unpleasant past experiences, Brickell was a little uneasy when her manager said she needed a producer. For the first time, she was having a great time—things were finally clicking in the studio. Besides, she was trying for a demo feel from the song’s final versions anyway. After some prodding Brickell agreed to send the demos to celebrated Texas guitarist Charlie Sexton.

In a case simply labeled “Texas Version,” Sexton FedExed the songs back to the singer with his playing on them. “I was just blown away,” she says. “It’s basically like what’s on the record. It was gorgeous to me. I said, ‘You’re my soul brotha; you got it.”

Voila, Brickell was back.

At the pinnacle of the New Bohemians’ success, Brickell says she was yearning to get married and be a mom. Even though her band was exploding, she often felt sad and incomplete. But after she met Simon while appearing on Saturday Night Live, it wasn’t long before she was in love and her dreams of motherhood were coming true. Before she even met Simon, though, she knew she wasn’t interested in juggling a singing career with motherhood. “I didn’t want to chase a career,” she says. “I wanted to do music at my leisure and be able to be the kind of mom that I wanted to be.” And, now, with all of her children in school—the youngest started this year—the time seems right for her return.

Brickell says she’s a big believer in fate—that if things are meant to be, they will be. And if ever things were meant to fall in place for her professionally, it seems the time is now.

“Right before I talked to Steve Gadd, I thought, ‘I guess I’m not going to make that one great record. I guess it wasn’t meant to be.’”

But what she’s wound up with two years later is “the first record that I’ve made that I love.” Her favorite of her career—so far.