Songwriters like Townes Van Zandt, Chris Smither, and John Prine can marvel listeners in the simplest of acoustic settings, with nothing more than a guitar and a song.
In my mind, that’s the measure of a gifted songwriter. From time to time, I stumble upon a new singer/songwriter whose work warrants comparison to the luminaries on this list.
Right now, I have been spinning The Hanging Road, the latest release by Joseph Huber, quite a bit. Virtually nonstop, actually, and Huber’s songwriting has me comparing him to my favorites above.
Huber spent time on the road with the .357 String Band and now has three solo albums to his credit. And when I say “solo,” I mean it. Huber writes all the tunes and plays all the instruments on his recordings. The songs on The Hanging Road certainly don’t suffer from Huber’s lack of company. Both his instrumental chops and songwriting skills are on fine display.
Trail Mix recently caught up with Joseph to chat about LPs, iPods, and sweet sounding suitcases.
BRO – We are featuring “The Hanging Road” on Trail Mix this month. What’s the story behind the song?
JH – The story behind the tune is that I had the chorus, medley, and the final chorus line bouncing around in my head for a while, and then I went home to visit my folks and my father pulls out this old Time-Life book on the American Southwest. He tells me that the Cheyenne used to call the Milky Way the “Hanging Road” and that it was the place where souls go when they die. My old man said that was a good image and line for a song and that I should write a song called that. So . . . . I did. My father comes to me every time he hears something that sounds like a song, and sometimes it just works. So, this was a collaborative effort for sure. And, contrary to what some may think, this has nothing to do with a road where hangings take place. It’s just such a beautiful substitute for where most people would put “heaven” or “the heavens.”
BRO – What songwriters are blowing your mind right now?
JH – I jump around a lot, but at this exact moment, I’ve been listening to Willy Tea Taylor, of Good Luck Thrift Store Outfit, and Alynda Lee Segarra, from Hurry For The Riff Raff. Willy Tea knows how to make life feel simple and within our grasp. He’s truly a salt-of-the-earth sort of writer who narrows everything down into a world where you can clearly see what is important and necessary for a good life. Hurray For The Riff Raff is a band most folks know about by now. They’ve been putting out great albums for a long time, but this newest one really has some great tunes on it. They certainly don’t need my seal of approval, as they are already blowing up this year, but still . . . my two cents is that it’s really, really good.
BRO – Favorite guilty pleasure when out on the road?
JH – It’s probably less attractive to admit that passing by the flashing lights of a casino makes your stomach jump into your neck with joy. But if we are truly talking guilty pleasures, then I’ll have to honestly say roulette. Don’t judge me.
BRO – When is the last time you fell ass backwards into a song and it just worked?
JH – It’s a rare occasion when the mind just opens up and words just flow out, at least for me. Writing just the right phrase can be laborious at times. The wordiest “songwriter” song on the album is probably “Wanchese & Manteo.” I was reading a travel novel called Blue Highway, by William Least Heat-Moon, who traveled the American landscape back in the 70s by taking nothing but off the beaten path back roads. He talked about visiting these coastal towns and the Indian chiefs associated with their towns’ names. The towns and the chiefs were strange microcosms and macrocosms of each other in a way that immediately made me circle the page and write, “This is a song” at the top. After finishing the book, I came back to that page and wrote every line in that song in a day. I reorganized it into a coherent whole and BAM!! It’s a beautiful day when the words just come, and that day was one of them. It’s certainly no radio hit due to its inherent style, but I am certainly proud of it.
BRO – LPs or iPods?
JH – Why dost thou sow seeds of division amongst my brethren? Ha! No, there’s room for both in my world, certainly. I’ve a soft spot in my heart for LPs and I will probably continue to press my albums on vinyl as long as I play music. But I’m a furniture maker who works in a filthy, dusty shop, and that’s where I do most of my music listening. So, iPods are absolutely necessary then. My records would be ruined pretty quick there. I like to think the world is moving toward a spot where these two formats will live happily together, like pressing LPs with download cards. I’m no predictor of the future, though.
BRO – Any secrets to getting good tone out of a Samsonite suitcase?
JH – Well, it was by no means on purpose that my two different suitcases I’ve used throughout my suitcase drumming career have been Samsonites. Both were found by my mother at various antique stores. Maybe she knew something about the “Samsonite Sound” before I did. But they both certainly have a great tone to them. From here on out, I’ll probably look for that name so I know it will be sturdy. And, as you can see, it’s a bit of a family affair here. My father comes up with the song titles, and my mother keeps my percussion section stocked.
Joseph Huber will take to the road again in early August, with dates in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Ohio. Late August finds Huber in Cookeville, Tennessee, for the Muddy Roots Music Festival.
For more info on Joseph Huber and how to get a copy of The Hanging Road, surf over to www.josephhubermusic.com.