This is a collection of songs that depict a specific time and place. It’s a snapshot of some of the musical output of a small community of songwriters and musicians who could be heard on street corners, in small venues, at backyard campfires, and house parties in New Orleans in the spring of 2016. Though some of the acts involved had attained national recognition and a number of the players were part of acts that enjoyed wider success, most were known only within the city through word of mouth. Little documentation of their work existed. Inspired by the quality of musicianship and songwriting of these artists, fellow musicians Duff Thompson and Bill Howard set about to record the songs they felt ought to be shared and appreciated by a wider audience than whoever happened to luck upon these gems in person.
Over the course of two months they recorded over 150 songs in a variety of improvised locations in New Orleans. Many of the sessions were hosted at songwriter/musician Sam Doores’
house, where he played on a number of the recordings with various bands (Twain & the Deslondes, Jackson & the Janks, The Lostines, Duff Thompson & the Full Grown Men, Pony Hunt). It was during this time that Sam had the idea to start the record label which became Mashed Potato Records.
A distinctive feature of the tracks on MPR Vol I is a strong influence from American roots music, the result of a community of musicians who converged in New Orleans sharing a love of traditional jazz, early country, blues, folk, and R&B. These influences permeate the recordings; Jonathan Henley’s Here to Stay is evocative of ‘70s-era Michael Hurley, Jackson & the Janks cover a hit gospel song from 1947 (The Trumpeteer’s Milky White Way), The Lostine’s Playing the Fool is a jubilant ‘60s girl-group throw-back, and their song No Mama Blues (co-written by Riley Downing) has the mournful storytelling of a classic American folk ballad.
These recordings reflect the circumstances under which they were made; informal, without finances, and for the sake of making music as an end in and of itself. All the songs were recorded to a reel-to-reel borrowed from a friend (Max Bien-Kahn), and all but two of the songs featured were recorded entirely live with a simple two-mic set-up. Run Wild (Twain & the Deslondes) was initially recorded as the audio track for a video shot by Joshua Shoemaker. Did Life Make You Bitter? resulted from an impromptu live recording at a party, using Duff’s van as the live room and Bill’s van as the control room. A suggestion following a live show prompted an otherwise-unplanned recording session the next day, during which Duff Thompson & the Full Grown Men cut six live tracks in just over two hours. A friend traveling through sat down in Duff’s van to record five songs, leading to the compilation closer Rare Feeling. All five tracks have been released as Alternator, one half of a double EP from Twain. Indeed, most of the tracks included in this compilation are part of larger collections of songs captured in these sessions, and which I hope you will be inspired to seek out, listen to, and share as well.
Mashed Potato Records was conceptualized in the spring of 2016, and by early 2017 a makeshift, analogue-based recording studio had been set up by the Mississippi River in a structure that was more a shack than a house, but unmistakably a home. Occupying this home were Sam Doores, Duff Thompson, and myself. With a fixed place to record, Sam and Duff upgraded to a better tape machine, got a four-channel mixer, and embarked on more formal and complex set-ups than the live, 2-mic recordings of the year prior. Resultantly, the songs on Vol II are higher-fidelity and fuller-sounding than on Vol I. Along with Sam and Duff, Bill Howard remained a major part of MPR in 2017, engineering and playing on many of the tracks.
There’s an admirable amount of commitment and sheer gumption required to make quality recorded music with the lack of material resources the founders of MPR contended with. Creating a vintage analogue recording studio with low-to-no budget (and all the malfunctioning equipment that goes
with it) is both foolish and exciting, and unspeakable extremes were taken to make it happen. Actually not really. But it was very difficult. Money, sleep, hygiene, sanity, morale, and dignity were all compromised as Sam and Duff embarked on scheduling, engineering, and often performing in dozens of recordings in little more than a month. All but two of the tracks on this compilation were created over a consecutive 40-day stretch of long recording sessions.
MPR Vol II would not exist without the collective effort of the musical community it sprang out of, and it’s inspiring to see what a group of people with a shared passion will do when given the opportunity. Musicians showed up and performed on long days under less than ideal conditions completely free of charge because they loved their friends’ songs and wanted to contribute to recordings that reflected something meaningful to them. And because it was fun, most of the time. Although some of the bands in these sessions were already fixed, rehearsed line-ups (Tuba Skinny, Chris Acker & the Growing Boys, Esther Rose’ band, Jackson & the Janks), most were not. Throughout this compilation you will hear numerous variations of the same session players backing different songwriters, and in fact, almost every track on the compilation features one or more of the same four backing musicians (Sam Doores, Duff Thompson, Max Bien-Kahn, and myself).
Almost all of the artists featured on this compilation have released more tracks that were recorded during these sessions as full-length albums, EP’s, and singles, and you ought to hear them all.