Robert Reeder performed at FAIRfest 2014.
Since arriving in Fairfield in 1991, Robert Reeder has dazzled local audiences with his gifted songwriting, instrumental prowess, and distinctive vocal talents. Amazingly, Robert has never recorded a solo album . . . until now. In September, Reeder’s first CD, the album, will be released. From what I’ve seen and heard, I couldn’t be more excited about this music.
Facts Behind the Man
When he left his father’s cattle ranch in Northern California at age 19, Robert could hardly imagine that within one year he would be recording songs with members of Crazy Horse (Neil Young’s backing band in the 1970s) and the legendary producer Henry Lewy at A&M Records. Robert was hired as a songwriter by ATV Music and later by Screen Gems EMI. His songs were recorded by the Everly Brothers, Bette Midler, and Glen Campbell, only to have those tracks not included on their albums. What a disappointment for a young songwriter! Yet Robert held his head high and moved on.
“Back when California rock was king,” Robert told me recently, “I had this porch in my cabin in Topanga Canyon that became a hangout for songwriters. Amazing people would drop by, like Bernie and Tom Leadon [of the Eagles and Tom Petty’s band Mudcrutch], Guy Perry [the Motels], and Rickie Lee Jones, who used to sit in on gigs we had with my band El Dorado. We’d drink coffee, write songs, share ideas, and sing and play together. We actually called my last LA band the Porch, a really kick-ass group of musicians with the Cortez brothers [David Crosby, Hiroshima] and Dan Dugmore [Linda Ronstadt, Warren Zevon].”
When the Porch disbanded in the early 1990s, Robert decided to visit Fairfield, where his son was attending school. Like other musicians who visit Fairfield, Robert found the pace of life and musical community appealing. After connecting with guitarist-songwriter James Moore and uilleann piper and audio sound engineer Tim Britton, he formed Sage. Later, Robert and James also collaborated on a number of Fairfield Musicians Club productions to raise funds for the Fairfield Arts and Convention Center. Many local residents remember the epic productions with revival themes for Woodstock, Motown, John Lennon, and more.
On the new CD, Robert shares the sound studio with local band Apocalypso Tantric Boys Choir featuring James Moore, Eric Hurlin, and David Hurlin. Excellent backing vocals come from Ann Carlisle and Steve and Michaela McLain. On “I Hear Your Sweet Singing,” Lauryn Shapter plays violin and viola while David Seagull accompanies on guitar. Moore receives co-writing credits on four songs. The CD sparkles from Tim Britton’s engineering and production talents. Making the album was a curious journey in collaboration.
Making The CD
When asked about how he created this album, Robert said, “You don’t create the song, you discover it hiding away in the ether and you gently and carefully coax it into existence, being careful not to let your own ideas interfere with it. Then you let it grow into a record by carefully bringing the right people that understand that the song is the boss and only it knows what it needs.”
Robert described working with Britton and Moore as “a three-ring circus,” each person expressing his opinion about a specific element of the record. “It can be time consuming and frustrating,” Robert said. “But at the end of the day, after our points of view have bounced around enough, we find that the song has dictated its own form.”
Listening to the 11 tracks from the album, I was immediately struck with a feeling of listening to the Eagles back in the early days. It’s a crisp, breezy set of tracks punctuated by Reeder’s voice swinging deftly somewhere between Don Henley and Glenn Frey, with just a hint of rasp and growl to claim his own signature. Some songs are more upbeat and optimistic, like the aptly titled “Yes,” “Everytime,” and “Down to the River.” Others are oozing with soul, dripping the blues, bouncing around bass lines and exquisite back vocals.
These four edgy tracks sink their hooks especially deep into me:
• “Walkin’ on Mars.” The lyrics talk about “Red dirt, miles and miles of heat, and burning guitars . . . Must be something in the stars . . . Must be walking on Mars.” It’s a perfect story, with subtle keyboards, smooth percussion, droning dobro, and cool backing vocals.
• “Bad Billy Bad.” Moody, bold bass guitar and percussion lay down the backdrop. Eric Hurlin’s jazzy electronic piano interlude adds just the right taste of sophistication to the song’s dark underbelly. When Jimmy Moore kicks in with acoustic keys, the song really takes off, with the chorus reminding us that Billy is bad, maybe so bad that he is actually good … like the song! Find yourself getting up to dance on this one.
• “Bewitching Time.” I heard this song for the first time during FAIRfest 2014. When Robert delivers the punch lyric followed by echoing guitar and shimmering back vocals, the magic spell is complete, delivering you to a place of beauty and charm.
• “Walkin’ Shoes.” This is perhaps my favorite with its slip-sliding, bass slapping, note-bending, blues-rapping search for them shoes. “Don’t know where they must be hidin’ somewhere… Maybe that screech owl’s got ’em.” Solid, epic cut!
The last song, “I Hear Your Sweet Singing,” is the perfect commentary on this great new album.
Isn’t life grand in Fairfield, Iowa?
A special edition of Fringe Toast on Wednesday, August 13, will feature an interview with Robert Reeder and James Moore as well as the debut of tracks from the new album. The release party date will be announced soon.
Join Andy on Fringe Toast every Wednesday, 8-10 p.m., Central Standard Time, on KRUU FM 100.1 in Fairfield, Iowa.