Stoney LaRue didn’t plan to take six years between studio albums, but there was an awful lot of life and music going on. For one of the icons of the Red Dirt Music movement, it was always about the moment that drove him to his next destination.
“I had a fiddle player and people kept telling me, ‘You need to get a band’,” recalls the performer/songwriter. “Live at Billy Bob’s was like jumping straight into the fire: two weeks after putting the band together, we recorded the album, hit the road and did 250 dates a year. We never looked back.”
Not looking back has been an earmark of LaRue’s roots hybrid, a sweeping musical narrative that embraces a man’s yearning, vulnerability, venality and desire. Though not meant to be a “state of the drifter” album, Velvet weighs the cost of being a man who lives by his own code against the reality it creates for others in his wake.
“I’m a big fan of looking up at night to what’s out there– and there are a lot of questions that come along with that,” LaRue confesses. “I’d like to think I understand myself – and the world I live in. I’m a father. I’m a husband. I’m a friend. I’m an asshole sometimes – even though I don’t wanna be. I’m a seeker. I’m a player. Maybe, too, I’m trying to figure out how to share something with people that will draw them deeper into who they are, the way music does for me.
“Music can heal. It can inspire. I know that much. I don’t know if this record will do those things, but I sure hope it might.”
After six years and all that living, Velvet marks a new kind of cohesion for the man who’s built a career on live performances. Working with award-winning producer Frank Liddell (Miranda Lambert, Chris Knight, Lee Ann Womack) and Mike McCarthy (Spoon, Patty Griffin); Velvet was recorded over three years in Nashville, and finds LaRue melting down the playbook and expectations for everyone involved.
“I met Frank through Enzo, my manager, and we spent some time together – and Frank said, ‘I’d like to make a record on you,’ and that was three years ago. I didn’t really know what that meant, but I liked him, and liked what he said about music…”
Liddell enlisted Glenn Worf on bass, Randy Scruggs on acoustic, Glen Duncan on fiddle, Chad Cromwell and Fred Eltringham on drums, Oran Thornton on guitar and Jim Hoke on accordion, steel and flute. Recognizing the power of cohesion for LaRue’s voice, Liddell recorded the sessions with everyone on the floor, letting the musicians bleed into each other’s tracks. “It was Frank’s genius idea to put us ALL in a room together and FEEL the songs be born.”
“Chad Cromwell, who plays drums for Neil Young, said he’d not done anything like this since the ‘70s. All these session players, who do this for a living, really made me feel like this was something special for them,” LaRue explains.
In an attempt to draw out the sentiments beneath the surface, Liddell introduced LaRue to several “outsider” songwriters, including Mando Saenz. Saenz was born in San Luis Potosi, Mexico and has lived in North Carolina, California, Oklahoma, Texas and Tennessee. He understands the reality of being a man always en route to somewhere else, the quest that is life. “There’s a real non-pretension to how he writes… He’s a poet, and when we start talking about life, it’s amazing what comes out.
“I think I had blinders on in a lot of ways, and was surprised what was there when the blinders came off. The more I was seeing about what could go into the songs, the more layers kept being revealed.”
Certainly, there is a mystical, cedar’n’sunlight-on-the-dust nature to Velvet. In “The Travelin’ Kind,” LaRue ponders the reality of those who stay in one place versus those who’re born to drift, “The apple don’t fall too far from the tree, but the apple never swam in the deep blue sea/ Maybe you’re just not a lot like me…”
“When we were writing, I wanted to be honest. I think the delivery behind these songs is important. There’s a vulnerability to what you do, and a potential for so much more. Maybe your life is turned upside down, but as a man you can crawl out of it, and as a father, you can take care of your family, try to help find the bigger plan.”
Life isn’t just about contemplation, though. There’s also an edge of lust and danger. As the fiddle-stitched “Sirens” whirls through a brisk core sample of desire and life on the run, LaRue suggests that restless doesn’t always mean comfortable. Nor is it the ultimate end game.
“Velvet’s silky melody and gentle rhythms show the singer self-aware, recognizing that he’s got too many miles behind him to deserve the person he’s singing to, and yet… he wants her to touch his soul, to lighten his life, to make him somehow more.
“I’ve always tried to watch people,” he says. “People’s eyes are the windows to their soul, and when you look – even from the stage – you can tell how they’re doing, what they’re getting from us. It makes me want to stay connected and deliver at the same time. When people hear the songs, you can see it on their face. You can see it, too, still rippling when they’re done listening to a song or leaving a show. It amazes me, really, how a little positive can undo a lot of negativity. It may not be the cure for cancer but my way of trying to help change the world, my palette has been my music”
Velvet paints a picture of what it means to be free but aware, willing but uncertain – and always, always drawn to the light. “I believe in a lot of things: Trust. Friendship. Smiling. The beauty of it all. And hope. Hope is one of the bigger ones…Somewhere out there, it’ll all come together,” Stoney LaRue is sure of it – and it echoes on all 10 tracks.