THEY’RE nothing if not prolific and industrious, John Darnielle’s much-loved exponents of Americana, The Mountain Goats.
It was only a year or so ago that John was in conversation with NPR about a breakneck ten days spent writing and recording Songs for Pierre Chuvin, the initially cassette-only release he put together on his boombox (it’s since had CD and vinyl releases) – and during which chat he also revealed the full band had been recording new material at “two famed studios in the Deep South.”
With October came a full album, Getting Into Knives, which was laid down at Sam Phillips Recording, Memphis, in that legendary space that’s hosted everyone from Elvis Presley to The Cramps. And a fine record it was too, featuring acerbic commentaries such as “Get Famous” with its brilliant, puppet-led video. Well, that’s one studio’s worth of recordings accounted for then, noted fans. Which left a hole in things. Where were these other tracks?
The answer can be revealed today: a whole, discrete other set of songs were committed to tape at FAME Studios, Muscle Shoals, Alabama – whose hallowed boards and baffles have resounded to the sounds of Aretha, Wilson Pickett, Gregg Allman and so many others.
And a first single has just dropped, the warm country-rock shimmer of “Mobile”, a paean to the Gulf Coast city and the everyman of that fine port, delivered with a melodic airiness but couching that biting vision of John’s, lyrically;
Of course legends abound as guest musicians on the track, including Muscle Shoals players Spooner Oldham, of Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Linda Ronstadt fame, on electric piano; and Will McFarlane, who’s laid down sessions for Bonnie Raitt and Tammy Wynette, on lead guitar.
Mountain Goats bassist Peter Hughes says of the experience and his interpretation of John’s lyrics: “The Mountain Goats have been playing together as a band long enough to have developed a degree of musical telepathy, but listening to these two guys responding in real time to us and each other revealed another level of connectedness altogether, one bordering on the supernatural.
“We ran through most of these songs three times; I’m pretty sure the performance of ‘Mobile’ you’re hearing is a second take.
“One of my quarantine projects after getting home was going back to Moby Dick and actually finishing it for once, and I was amused to encounter early on the retelling of the story of Jonah.
“If Melville gives it to us as a fiery 19th-century New Bedford sermon, what ‘Mobile’ offers might be understood as Father Mapple’s modern-day Gulf Coast flipside, the breeziness of McFarlane’s electric guitar and Matt Douglas’ accordion belying its protagonist’s guilty conscience.”
The Mountain Goats’ Dark In Here will be released digitally, on CD, on trad black and ‘high noon somewhere blue’ vinyl on June 25th; you can pre-order it here, or here if you want that coloured vinyl edition and you’re in the UK.