Sunday, May 21, 2006

Marley's Ghost takes "Spooked" on the road

I still have a lot of catching up to do with interviews I did with performers at some recent festivals. With Strawberry on the docket, this seems like a good time to write up my conversation with Mike Phelan of Marley's Ghost, since the band has such a long history with Strawberry and since Mike himself is a regular participant on the Strawberry Hogranch email list.

I caught up with Mike last month at the Old Settler's Music Festival, after Marley's Ghost played its Sunday afternoon set at the Campground Stage. I started out noting the band is well-loved by the Strawberry audience.

"Well, it's a mutual love affair. That festival has meant so much to us," he said.

This year, the band is touring heavily around the country in support of its new "Spooked" CD, which was produced by A-list producer Van Dyke Parks and is getting a big promotional push from the Sage Arts record label.

I asked how the new record differed from earlier Marley's Ghost projects. Phelan said that Parks "took us up a step, introducing a whole other level of detail and bringing volumes of new ideas, rhythms and concepts. He stretched us in every possible way."

Parks is the producer, composer and arranger who developed talents such as Ry Cooder and Randy Newman, and who has worked with many of the biggest names in popular music.

Phelan said that Parks focused the band on lesser known material from the American past mixed in with some band originals.

"In the past, we have been intoxicated by some reggae, some blues, and various other styles. The difference here is that the record is more narrowly focused on just this Americana stuff, and it all hangs together with a cohesiveness that comes from having a really topline producer," Phelan said.

"He really worked my butt off in the studio, asking me to try some different rhythms and techniques I wouldn't have thought of," Phelan said. "I came out of the experience with a new excitement about my music and knowing i had to go back in the woodshed and pretty much work on everything really hard."

The other unique thing about "Spooked" is the R. Crumb cover artwork, which came about since several band members had worked with Crumb in his Cheap Suit Serenaders band. Since Crumb had lost his record collection in a dispute with the IRS, the band paid for his work with "about 100 pounds of 78-rpm records," Phelan said.

Now that the CD is released (and has been featured at the Borders and iTunes stores), Phelan said the band is focused on promoting it to radio stations and the music industry. There is also talk about a follow-up CD with Parks that would extend the new directions.

If so, perhaps the Strawberry faithful will get a chance to see the band back at Mather in 2007.

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