Long time, no see! I'd like to think that there's a good reason for my lack of posts of late, but there really isn't. After all, we're all busy, aren't we?
Anyhow, a quick update from me about…Read more
Q: Tell us a bit about the record and the name Tennessee River Shakedown?
Michael: The record was recorded in two different “six song sessions” at FAME recording studios in 2023. The first session started in February and the second in September. After the first session, I felt like the songs were cool but I didn’t’ think they were cohesive enough for an EP. I had a couple of rock n roll tunes, and I had some cool R&B grooves going on. It felt classic, but each song felt like it needed a “buddy.” So, I wrote this tune called “Lighter Load” in March and I was like, “man this sounds like Tupelo Elvis with an edge.” From there, I landed on the title of the record pretty quickly since the music follows the lore of the Shoals and surrounding areas.
Q: What do you think will draw people to the record?
Michael: I think the album will attract a diverse audience because the songs cover a lot of territory. Overall, I think the record is going to play well with folks who like old school rock n roll because the record has a timeless feel to it while also being progressive in areas. That was Jimbo Hart’s vision for the record. And man, there were so many choices he made as a producer that took the music to a whole different level.
The other appeal of the record, I think, are the lyrics. Like my previous stuff, there are songs that are written about my person, Kaye, and how she makes me feel and how she has changed my life. But the album also delves into some of the personal pain I have experienced as an adult, and I also opine on the current direction and division in the country. So, there’s a lot in the songs that I think people can and will relate to.
Q. You mentioned that the record was recorded in two, six song sessions. How does that work?
Michael: Honestly, it’s magic. There are a group of session players in Muscle Shoals, and that includes Jimbo Hart, who I call the Dream Makers. They’re incredible players who not only play well together, they play really well with me. We mesh and the vibe we have together is great.
I record demos of the song at home and then send them to FAME. Guitarist Will McFarlane charts the songs using the Nashville Number system. We then listen to the Demo in the studio, talk a few things over, rehearse some transitions and BAM! We track all the basics in three takes or less. And that takes a day including instrumental overdubs. Vocals took 2-3 days for each session with much of that time being devoted to back-ups and harmonies.
Q. You mentioned that Jimbo Hart produced the record. How did he get involved?
Michael: Jimbo has played on all of my recordings at FAME and he is a world class bass player. He’s also an amazing person who everyone loves. We had some interactions and moments when I first started recorded at FAME that made me feel connected to him. I really trust him. So, when I started planning for this record in the Fall of 2022, I called him up and asked him if he would produce. He said yes and I almost drove off the road I was so excited.
And for good reason: His work on the record was invaluable and he had this amazing ability to know when to coax the right performance, add instruments, subtract them, and then also create cool and sometimes weird vibes and sounds. He’s a great creative partner and he also sings some mean harmonies on the record as well. That Beach Boys harmony on the chorus of Tears and Whiskey is Jimbo.
Q. Who else was involved in making the record?
Michael: In terms of the band, Justin Holder played drums and Brad Kuhn played keys. Both are absolute MONSTERS—I challenge you to find anyone who are better. We also added a second guitar player for this record. Jay Burgess of the Pollies played on the first set of songs and Grammy award winner Gary Nichols hit the axe for the second. That session was the first time Jimbo and Gary had played together in years, so that was really special.
Long-time studio manager at FAME, Spencer Coats--who is a good friend and great engineer--engineered the first session. Wes Sheffield of FAME, who is an amazing musician and songwriter in his own right, engineered the second session and then also did an incredible job mixing the record. He also sang back-ups on the chorus of "Lighter Load." Pete Lyman was the mastering engineer.
Q. What’s next?
Michael: I’ve learned from past efforts that releasing a record takes a lot of planning that requires a team to execute. So, I have been busy team building. I have hired Eugene Foley of Foley Entertainment to help with song placement and publishing companies. I have a few irons in the fire now about folks to help with publicity/PR and radio promotion. We’ll then be looking for folks to help with booking some good live dates this summer. And then there is the whole Merch thing as well. So, it will be a busy 2024, but we’re so looking forward to it.
Check out Michael's monthly livestreams on the IG (@MichaelLawsonOfficial). He'll play songs from Tennessee River Shakedown his previous EP's as well as new material:
Here's what Jeff Burger from Americana Highways said about Michael's Debut EP, Side 2:
"You might expect a musician to be overflowing with material after a decade-and-a-half hiatus from songwriting, but Alabama-based Michael Lawson has returned to his craft with a mere five-song, 20-minute EP. Take what you can get, however, because this self-produced collection is excellent. Lawson and his band deliver hook-laden power pop that recalls Dwight Twilley (a high compliment); you may also hear echoes of Tom Petty in the vocals and George Harrison in some of the guitar work.
Lawson reveals on his website that his 20-year marriage ended not long ago and says, “I turned to music to help me pass the time and to cope with the sense of loss that I was feeling.” A few of the titles here, such as “Life Goes On (Movin’ On),” hint at those circumstances but the music mostly belies them: these are upbeat, anthemic songs, peppered with ringing guitars and “sha la la” choruses that may prompt you to turn up the volume to the point where neighbors complain.
SO YOU WANT MORE?
Check out this great review of Side 2 by British Country Music Hall of Famer Alan Cackett!