Barnboard Blonde (2004-06)
Over a year prior to the completion of the third studio album, when first presenting his idea for the new record, Dismuke offered the following in a letter to his band mates:
"Inspiration and direction have to come from somewhere, why not from where we began? Why not from from within?"
He was referring to Fenceposts, and he was suggesting that the band let that album serve as a table of contents for their records to come. Intrigued by the notion of planning out their discography in this way—abstracting and expanding on the existing subject matter, capitalizing on the potentials of multiple genres—he was convinced that a lifetime of music had already been written for them.
Eyebrows were raised. The decision was unanimous.
At close of the fall '03 tour, a decade since the band's beginnings, they decided to shut down for a while. The band's intent was to take a few months off in order to, more or less, spend the winter months setting up a new home studio so as to record the new album and then prepare for a release tour in the spring. But not everything went to plan. There was Christmas and kids, new mortgages and honey-do lists. On the more serious end, Hord was pressured to take permanent leave of the band for personal problems. Other members took on extra jobs so as to catch up on bills while others, still, picked up various side projects to bide their time. Spring came and went with the band meeting as it was able to, hammering out new material and polishing up on some of the tunes that had been written during the Fenceposts tours.
In light of financial limitations, if not personal interests, a collective decision was reached about the recording process. The band figured that they could do it all on their own, record and produce albums from their home studio (The Sol Shack), and so they invested in some gear and went to work. The DIY method seemed fitting, and this final step rounded out their business concern: booking, publicity, promotion, distribution, sales and recordings. Advancing with what tools and talent they had, the song list grew, and by the close of summer the third studio record had made its way to tape. They called it Barnboard Blonde, a title shared with the first track on Disk 1 of Fenceposts.
Dismuke, being the band's primary lyricist and songwriter, originally introduced enough material for Barnboard to produce a 2 CD set, but snags in the studio and less than unanimous support for the project compelled him to rethink the album. In a dramatic departure from the Fenceposts sessions, he split the material for Barnboard in half. The more lengthy numbers were shelved for future albums, and the majority of remaining songs, with one or two exceptions, were structured as shortened, traditional country-rock numbers. The crafting of songs in this fashion, while commonplace enough in pop music, was a new trick for Dismuke (one he confesses to have enjoyed). Per the usual, the majority of group recording time was spent in assisting Jones to develop his drum parts. Once the drum tracks were down, individual members came in to overdub their parts in typical studio fashion.
Pursuing their long-term intentions, the collection of songs that made their way to this new album were derived from a portion of the preceding one. Gathered and written around the central theme of origin, one finds exactly what might be expected: Boy meets girl, and then again life begins. From lying and cheating to hope and matrimony, from the blues of youth to the wisdom of old, from the shack out back to the Garden of Eden, Barnboard takes this most sung about of themes and spirals listeners round in a less than predictable arc of sights and sounds. Characters and settings come and go like those on a summer's eve spent reminiscing. Emotions range from hot to cold and touch on all points in between. Long-spun tales of family history, myth and legacy, hope and fantasy, all are retold as if being uttered for the first time. What was lost is found, known forgotten, unheard of spoken, and what was thought cliché is reinvigorated. It is an inward journey, one that searches for newness within the old—hence the name, Barnboard Blonde.
Due to Hord's departure, one would think a drastic change in the instrumentation would be apparent on the new album. But this simply isn't the case. The departure of Hord, while lamented in many ways, had little impact on the band's guitar work. Dismuke, along with a number of special guests, worked out the stringed instruments in the very best of Peach Truck tradition. What's more, Hord's absence helped precipitate what might just be the album's greatest features—the piano work of Mr. Justin Cook and the bass playing of Mr. Jerry Jewell. All the would-be holes are filled and one will find the sound of another instrument dancing hand in hand with every single guitar, banjo and mandolin that cares to step out on the floor.
Along with the completion of Barnboard Blonde, the band's quarterly rounds were rekindled in the fall of 2004 with a regional release tour. National distribution and release through the Homegrown Music Network as well as a spring tour began on March 15th of 2005. By the close of fall 2006, they'd done 136 shows in five regional tours, and Barnboard Blonde had become their best selling album to date.
Dismuke attempted to bring in a number of guitarists early on, including a lengthy run of shows with a longtime musician friend by the name of Justin Broderick, but no one managed to go the distance. Consequently, the vast majority shows performed in support of Barnboard Blonde were done as a four piece. Given time, the single guitar lineup began to find its way on the stage, and the set lists began to reflect the quartet's strong points—vocal harmonies, soaring guitar and piano solos, a healthy dose of Grateful Dead cover songs, and lengthy improvisation based on song suites taken from the new album. Songs that the band felt were best performed with two guitars, were eventually dropped from the live show altogether. By the close of 2006, set lists began to reflect a "best of the four-piece" mentality and included songs from Fenceposts, Barnboard Blonde and the band's forthcoming album, Parson's Farm.
A typical night of two 90+ minute sets more often than not included one variation or another of the following:
1) Stepping Stones > Brothers and Sisters > Jam > Brothers and Sisters
2) Jam > Handsome Johnny > Bertha (Grateful Dead) > Jam > Bertha
3) Friend in Kind > Parson's Jam > Clover Creek
1) Stop Breaking Down > Jam > Build Me Up > Jam > Clover Creek
2) Beulah Land > I Know You Rider (traditional) > Jam > I Know You Rider
3) Use Me (Bill Withers) > Jam > Feeling All Right (Traffic)
5) All in Good Time > Jam > Goldleaf and Gravel
6) Franklin's Tower (Grateful Dead)
*Taken from the final show of the fall 2006 tour: Live at Max's Garage in Muskogee, OK.
Though drummer, Evan Jones, took on the task of recording the band's live performances early on in his tenure, almost nothing can be shown of it. A fair number of shows were collected over the years, however amateur, but not more than a handful were actually archived. The majority of shows, unfortunately, were lost due to negligence. What can be heard in the existing recordings of the four-piece, and what was witnessed most every night by the end of the 2006 fall tour, was the growing connection between Dismuke and Cook during the improvised sections. In short, the solos became relentless, regularly averaged 20 minutes, and grew in depth and stature with every performance. Dismuke's first steps into the primary soloist role may have been forced as a matter of necessity, but by the fall of 2006 he was running the stage like none before.
The songs of Barnboard Blonde, written by and for the quartet, became a catalyst for those ensuing tours. The new batch of songs allowed the four-piece to move beyond much of the structure and form that was once necessary for the band—back when it's calling card was that of a dual lead guitar section. Jones's habitual struggle with song structure was the immediate beneficiary, and though his problems with finesse, tempo and groove persisted from song to song , the improvised sections, more often than not, seemed to make up the difference. In the end, notwithstanding historical failings, the single guitar lineup proved as satisfactory as any that had come before it. And there was little desire to return to the days of old.
Among the twelve tracks of the band's third release one will find takes on everything that the Peach Truck has come to represent—folk, rock, soul, blues, jazz, country and bluegrass—all of it tied together within the fabric of poetic lyricism and quality songwriting. Twelve well placed titles are delivered with spot-on musicianship, heartfelt harmonies, and a rawness that's both balanced and supported by a traditional sense of instrumentation. From the sonic smack of the home studio to an overall vintage tone that would date the band to 1971, the record is not only in keeping with the Peach Truck's evolution, it's an affirmation of the band's self-described home. Barnboard Blonde became the true first verse of "Southern Harmony and Jam Music for the Soul."
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