Friday, June 15, 2007

Roger Hoover: Restless Music

Originally intended for publication: early 2006. As of the summer of 2007, Hoover is working on the follow-up to Jukebox Manifesto with Ryan Foltz again at the helm. Freddy Hill has parted amicably with Hoover, taking the name "Whiskeyhounds" with him. Drummer Dave McKean, keyboard player Justin Gorski, and bass player Adam Simms are working with Hoover on the new one.

You could say Roger Hoover is the restless type. At the end of 2005, Hoover and his band, the Whiskeyhounds, had recorded Jukebox Manifesto, a polished, eclectic album that ran the gamut from banjo-picking Americana to blues-inflected roots rock. It was a worthy follow-up to the band’s sophomore album, Panic Blues, a tasty album full of CCR flavored tunes that went mostly unnoticed outside of Hoover’s native Cleveland.

By the time Hoover met ex-Dropkick Murphys mandolin player and soundman Ryan Foltz, a childhood friend of Whiskeyhounds drummer Dave McKean, he was already bored with the as-yet unreleased album. To Hoover’s ear, it didn’t capture the way it felt when the band played the songs live. When keyboardist Justin Gorski joined the band, Hoover thought it was the perfect opportunity to junk the first album, though it was mixed and ready to go, and start over again.

“I decided to do it again because I thought the arrangements could have been different and Ryan got on board,” says Hoover. “I have to revisit these songs all the time. One of the things lyrically I wanted to do with this album a long time ago was leave lots of open spaces between in words so I can kind of morph it into what I’m feeling any given time and relate to it from any different perspective. So they never get old for me.”

Foltz, who left the Murphys and Boston for his native Cleveland four years ago, came aboard as producer and the band rerecorded the entire album. Most of the work was done in four days in a giant living room, with a few finishing touches added over the next couple of weeks. Foltz was actually a fan of the first version of the album, but thought they could do better.

“It was good, but it sounded like the other two records they’d already made,” he says. “I’d seen them live a whole bunch of times and it really didn’t capture their thing. They really are a really cool, very breathing entity onstage. They really have a lot of fire, and it wasn’t coming across in the recording.”

The new sessions were recorded in a vacant house a friend of Hoover’s gave the band permission to record in. Considering the first two albums were recorded in the same studios with the same producer, Hoover welcomed the chance to get into a new space and work with someone who would push him in a different direction. “The space we had to record that album in lent itself really well to the feeling of the songs,” he says. “And I think the tone, just from the space we were in, gives the album a much better personality.”

Foltz also welcomed the change of pace. “I like getting out of my studio and getting out of a comfortable situation and making something happen out of a different set of circumstances,” says Foltz. “It’s good for everybody. It makes everybody look at it different and work differently.”

The Jukebox Manifesto Hoover finally released trades polish for intimacy and coherency. Hoover’s voice is raw and powerful, and shines on every track, from the opening blues rave-up “Inside His Devil Grin” to the gentle us-against-the-world closing ballad “Inamorato.” But the Whiskeyhounds finally gel as their own unit. McKean stomps through the Waitsian “Gewgaw Girl” and pounds lays low for the acoustic shuffle of “Roger Hoover’s Dream.” Freddy Hill bounces back and fort between electric and acoustic lead, and lends a beautiful lap steel to the coda of “Inamorato.” Bass player Chris Yohn can anchor every stylistic change, and Gorski’s shimmering B3 organ steps out of the background on “Stone on the Ground” to give the tune a “Positively Fourth Street” feel. The lone holdovers from the original sessions, “Anna Lee” and “Roadside CafĂ©,” are raw acoustic ballads, just Hoover’s voice and guitar.

For once, Hoover has an album he’s not already sick of by the release date. “I’ve had these songs a solid year and been playing them out and morphing them,” he says. “And they’re every bit as interesting as they were the first time I met them.”

Listen to some tracks from from Jukebox Manifesto.

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