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Trying to clear a pathway to the outside world after a big nor'easter without so much as a shovel is something else entirely.
"Once I was stuck in a snowstorm in '94 with my uncle Joey, and he made me shovel the driveway with a rake and a trash can lid," remembers Erick Jordan, main songwriter for the '60s-inspired, folk-rock combo The Rosewood Thieves. "It took me five hours, and it wasn't very much fun."
Understandably scarred by the experience, Jordan found himself snowbound again last winter. He and the rest of the Thieves were visiting Jordan's parents' home in the Pocono Mountains when a big storm hit, making travel impossible.
With little else to do but play board games and sip hot coffee, Jordan pulled out his acoustic guitar and favored the gathering with a new piece he'd been working on called "Honey, Stay Awhile."
Marked by a light, drifting melody, the gorgeous acoustic sketch sparked the group to take the unexpected free time it'd been given and record a clutch of songs for the recently released EP Lonesome.
"It definitely helped guide us to what other songs of ours would make sense to record over the next few days," says Jordan of the gently swaying track. "I like that you can hear crackling at points during the song, 'cause we were just figuring out the gear. I think we did 'California Moon' second, and that made it even more clear what we were making."
As it turned out, the muffled atmosphere of the house created a calm atmosphere in which to work, and out of a series of impromptu recording sessions came Lonesome, the tranquil, and somewhat rustic, followup to The Rosewood Thieves' previous EP, From The Decker House. Not surprisingly, perhaps, that sense of serenity is felt throughout Lonesome.
"We weren't in a normal recording studio, just in a basement, so we were all relaxed and had time on our side," says Jordan. "We were all so happy with how these all turned out that we really wanted to take it a little further. We went to L.A. to have Thom Monahan (The Pernice Brothers, Devendra Banhart) mix it, and it's always nice to work with him."
Having hours upon hours of recording time at their disposal was a blessing. "It's always nice to be in situations like that," says Jordan.
Stranded miles away from the noise and anxiety of the city, The Rosewood Thieves, who could be the second coming of The Band or the bastard offspring of Bob Dylan, fleshed out a handful of compositions for Lonesome in the relaxed setting of the country hideaway where they stayed.
Not quite the shambling, freewheeling barn party of old-time Americana that was From The Decker House, Lonesome tumbles softly out of the place of its birth with delicate acoustic renderings, a sweet flood of vocal harmonies and spare drums. But, the two really aren't so different in personality, despite Lonesome's homey touches.
An expanded version of From The Decker House, which originally dropped in the summer of 2006, has been reissued with three previously unreleased bonus tracks.
"We recorded a ton of songs during that session, so when we got it back from the label (originally, it was released by V2, which has since scaled back its operations), we decided to add three more songs on the iTunes version, limited-edition style," explains Jordan. "Those extra ones will only be available for about another month."
And The Rosewood Thieves aren't done padding their growing resume.
"We actually just finished our first LP," reveals Jordan. "It's going to be called The Rosewood Thieves Rise And Shine. It's much more upbeat than Lonesome. We are all very excited with the new songs and have been playing lots of them at shows. Hopefully, it'll be available early 2008. We are still deciding, but it might include one song from each of the EPs."
Down the line, more ephemera from The Rosewood Thieves' attic could be dug out for a garage-sale type of record. Jordan says the band is thinking about compiling outtakes from both Lonesome and the upcoming full-length for a future release.
Until then, fans have Lonesome to keep them company. From the waltz of acoustic guitar, piano and sandy percussion that serves as the instrumental intro "Poor Bonnie's Affliction" to the finger-picking intricacy of "Untitled #1" to the flickering candle of bittersweet country-pop that is "California Moon," Lonesome is a welcome stranger saddled with regret and loss but pleasant in conversation.
All talking should cease with "California Moon," however. With its brushed drums, the quiet wail of pedal steel and the slow trawl of piano, the song's charms would seem to come from a fairly complex arrangement. Nothing could be further from the truth.
"It was actually very easy. We made a demo of that song a few months earlier," says Jordan. "We listened back to it and made a few changes and went from there. For some reason, songs with a lot of space in them are more interesting to produce. Every small element you add to it is more powerful. The amazing Mike Daly played pedal steel on it and knocked us out."
As easy as it is to be seduced by "California Moon" and it's Harvest-era Neil Young balladry, the Dylan-esque ramble of "Murder Ballad in G Minor" is a gripping, cinematic western with poetic storytelling that shakes listeners awake with lashes of its whip.
"Everybody likes western movies, horses, guns, whore houses, whiskey, boots, big belt buckles, cowboy hats, lassos ... " says Jordan.
Though The Rosewood Thieves - also featuring Mackenzie Vernacchio on organ and Wurlitzer, Paul Jenkins on guitar and bass, and Mark Bordenet on drums - are often pegged as a band that would have been more comfortable living in the late '60s and hanging out with Dylan, The Byrds, The Band and others like them, Lonesome and its forays into the '70s California pop of Crosby, Stills & Nash indicate a willingness to break with country-rock tradition in ways that brought Wilco critical acclaim.
"I'm not sure about breaking tradition," says Jordan. "It never comes into mind while writing songs. All I know is I like all of those bands a lot."
And if someone calls The Rosewood Thieves old-fashioned, Jordan is okay with that, although, he says, perhaps only half joking, "It depends by who." SEE ALSO: www.rosewoodthieves.com
Peter Lindblad lives in Appleton, Wis., and bleeds green and gold just like all the Packer fan nutjobs in the area. He does draw the line at wearing blocks of chedder on his head, or any other body parts for that matter, though. His professional career has taken weird twists and turns that have led him to his current position as an editor at a coin magazine. He hopes his stay there will be a short one. Before that, he worked as an associate editor at a log home magazine. To anyone that will listen, he'll swear that Shiner was one of the greatest rock bands to ever walk the earth. Yet he also has much love for Superchunk, Spoon, DJ Shadow, Swervedriver, Wilco, Fugazi, Jawbox, ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Queens Of The Stone Age, and Modest Mouse, among others.
See other articles by Peter Lindblad.
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