Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Alastair Moock: On Fortune Street

Alastair Moock has been exploring the roots of American music for the past decade, hosting his Pastures of Plenty shows in Boston and around the country, and turning out album after album of fine songwriting with a healthy respect for tradition. His new album, Fortune Street, is his best to date. He explores the personal histories of Woody Guthrie and John Brown in “Woody’s Lament" and “Cloudsplitter,” respectively. “God Saw Fit to Make Tears” is as beautiful and soulful a ballad as Moock has ever written, and “Yin Yang Blues” is his twisted, conflicted ode to love. Moock is at a new stage in his career – he releases Fortune Street Saturday at Club Passim, his wife, Jane, had twins in December, and he has finally found a home on the CoraZong label.

How much did hosting the Pastures of Plenty series influence your songwriting for the new album?

Hmm. Well, there’s obviously that reference to Pastures in the title track. I was disappointed in the way the touring version of the show ended and that came out in the song. Other than that, the main connection I guess is in my ongoing interest in roots music and tradition – that’s well reflected in both the series and my songwriting.

What draws you to the more historical profiles, like "Woody’s Lament" and "Cloudsplitter?"

I guess I look back because I’m searching for perspective. Both of those songs are largely about contemporary issues – I just take the long way around to the point. But it’s also an aesthetic choice. I love reading historical non-fiction and I’m starting to really enjoy writing about it too. It’s partly a form of escape, I suppose.

How did you and [producer/guitarist David Goodrich] Goody collaborate in the studio?

We talked a lot about the arrangements before we went in so we knew what we were shooting for. But you don’t really know what’s going to work ‘til you get there, so you try things. Goody and I are both pretty strong-willed when it comes to the creative stuff, but we communicate well. He’s an amazing musician and I was a big fan of his previous production work, so I had a lot of faith in his instincts.

How did you pull this specific group of musicians together (Michael Dinallo, Kris Delmhorst, Goody)?

Goody was in Groovasaurus with Mike Piehl and Lou Ulrich and they’re still his go to rhythm section, so he pulled them in. I’ve played a lot with Mike Dinallo and knew I wanted him on certain songs, especially God Saw Fit and Delia – he’d come up with great parts on those when we played them live, and Mike’s just a unique player. Sean Staples and Kris were natural choices – they’re two of the best studio musicians in Boston, and they’re good friends.

How did you come to sing to the CoraZong label?

I got my last album (Let it Go) out to a lot of folks in Europe. It got some nice attention on the Euro Americana charts and someone sent a copy to CoraZong (it may have been me – I can’t remember). One day I got a call from the head of the label. We talked and eventually signed a contract. They re-released the Let it Go in Europe and the US and now they’re doing this one. They’ve been great.

Do you think you’ll ever get away from that singer/songwriter approach, with your voice and an acoustic guitar at the center of your sound?

Well, Let it Go got further away than any other one – it was pretty rocky and electric. But I know who I am. My strength is writing songs and singing them. If anything, I think I may be headed toward an even more stripped-down next album. The longer I do this, the more I want to lose the decorations.

How important is humor in your music? It seems you always make a point to include one tune that’s explicitly humorous.

It just seems to come out in my writing. I try to write about all sorts of things, and some things are funny. I also like playing with language, which often leads to humor. But I don’t consciously try to write humorously. In general, I’m not a big fan of “funny” songwriting.

Does being a parent change your songwriting and your career goals?

I don’t know – I haven’t written any songs since we had the twins! Yeah, it changes everything. Just being an expectant parent changed my songwriting. You can hear all the references to parenthood on this album. As for career goals, I’m just trying to take things one day at a time. The reception to this record has been good so far. I’d like to continue to develop touring opportunities, especially in Europe where it’s actually an affordable pursuit. But my main goal at this point is to just keep making music. As long as I can make records and get them out there for people to hear, I’ll be content enough.

Would you consider yourself a folk purist? Do you enjoy music outside of the folk and blues traditions that influenced you most?

Like, I think, most people who spend a lot of time around music, I listen to a pretty wide range of stuff. I listen to a lot of jazz and hip hop. I love old soul (as I think came across on this record), old country, bluegrass, a lot of African and Caribbean music, some harder rock (I love Jane’s Addiction). And I actually listen to a lot of stand-up comedy and spoken word stuff in the car. There are only a handful of comedians who I really like but I listen to them over and over again. I’m fascinated by the precision of their language and the rawness of their craft. Talk about performing solo – those guys don’t even have a guitar to hide behind.

If you’re reading this around noon on Thursday, June 28, tune in and hear Alastair on WUMB 91.9 or go to

Alastair Moock Fortune Street CD release party, June 30, 8 pm, Club Passim, 47 Palmer Street, Cambridge, 617-492-7679.

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