The time spent in Austin around some of America's greatest contemporary songwriters had a beneficial effect on Hodges' songwriting as well.
I had started to take writing more seriously before we ever got there, he says, but there's certainly something to be said for going out and hearing good songwriters. I spent a lot of time at the Continental Club where I got to hear Jon Dee Graham and James McMurtry. So I definitely focused a little bit more on writing lyrics. In New Orleans, a lot of music is much more rhythm-oriented.
Hard Times, Hodges maps out a method for survival constructed out of the shards of his past, bypassing the specifics of the flood and its aftermath in favor of the mythological dimensions of love won and lost and the dream memories of past and future. The power of imagination animates the tribute to his dying father, Okemah, while the enduring strength of unconditional love frames the record on the title track, an expression of support for a departing lover, and on the final statement, which likens a loving partner to a Warm Sun.
Hodges worked on several of the songs that would appear on
Hard Times while he was in Austin. Her Red Fishnets is a surreal wash of romantic images set around New Orleans tied together by a chorus constructed of titles to Fats Domino songs.
I guess that's my hurricane song, Hodges says. It's my tribute to Fats Domino. At first they were saying he died; I don't know how that rumor got started. Then they were showing clips of him being brought out of his house on a boat, and I thought when Fats Domino goes down and his house goes down, it's a total tragedy. So Fats Domino inspired that song.
Hodges also wrote the words to Okemah at a point where his father's death and the drowning of New Orleans were going on simultaneously. When Katrina hit, my father was dying of cancer right at the same time, he says. So it was really a rough time for me. That's pretty much a description of my experiences in the hospital with him during Katrina. I was describing feelings and in some instances, literal things that I heard or saw during that time. René had the music. I had the lyrics already, so it was about listening to the music over and over until I found a way to fit them in in a natural way.
Coman was a capable songwriting partner for Hodges on
Hard Times, crafting the unforgettable melodic structure of Okemah and co-writing several outstanding songs - Her Red Fishnets, Back in the Limelight, Pelican Bay and Morgan City.
I had the music for 'Okemah' for awhile before I did the demo that Rod fashioned those lyrics to, says Coman. I was really touched that he got that personal. On 'Pelican Bay,' Rod had some lyrics and we wrote the music for that at my house. We came up with the form and worked on the lyrics. I think on that one I was playing organ and he was playing guitar. On 'Morgan City,' we had the existing track and Rod had some lyrics. We put them together and the producer shifted the groove slightly. That was one where after we had the basic track, it was nice to be able to put on treated pianos and other elements to make it sound a little ethereal. The title track, Rod had most of that when he brought it to the band. I finished it off. That came up after we'd finished the record. We were just going in to do the few last vocals and overdubs and Rod came up with that. It was the perfect thing the record needed.
Though If You Should Ever Fall On Hard Times came late to the album, it is anything but an afterthought. The track ties together the record's themes as if Hodges' instincts were distilling the album's ideas into one final statement.
You get a lot of ideas and a lot of them never really come to anything because you don't have anything to focus on, Hodges says. But when you start working on a record, stuff happens. It just popped into my brain. Then something else takes over and starts working for you.
Saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist Joe Cabral provides counterpoint to this well-balanced album on the instrumental interludes The Beep" and The Fall, as well as Malas Vibras and "Celos Con Mezcal - co-written with Hodges - and the record's only direct reference to a hurricane, El Huracan y Pin Pon, about a man who decides to ride out the storm with his dog.
El Huracan was a song that I've been singing to myself in Spanish for a number of years, says Cabral, something that I remember from when I was riding my bicycle around out by the lake when a hurricane was coming. It was always in the back of my mind, but I never really did anything with it, so we made some fun out of it. Some people stay because they don't want to leave their dogs. In English, it goes like this:
If the water comes then we're leaving,
me and Ping Pong,
we're going to try to get back with our family
and we don't know if we'll be able to come back.
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