Mike Perry Flies On
sophomore album released by Amble Down Records
Michael Perry sheds ego the way the moon sheds image through its orbital phases. Peak and blinding effulgence is momentary before the eye is inevitably drawn to a backdrop of stars. Case in point, his band, the Long Beds, may find themselves a part of the long tradition of musical outfits named So-and-So and the Fill-in-the-Blanks, but that’s where any sort of irony ends.
Perry explains, “In the beginning the band consisted of whoever was available. The line up changed, but Michael Perry was always there, so I put him out front. No bones about it, we put my name out there hoping maybe someone who liked my books would give the music a listen. I write the songs and sing them, but the people on stage with me are MUSICIANS in the purest sense. I am incidental flotsam, they are the river, and they bear me along.”
Buoying Perry is an impressive ensemble of artists including Billy Krause, Molly Otis, Chris Ramey, and Chuck Roll. The group is set to release the sophomore album, Tiny Pilot, from its collective hangar this month through Amble Down Records. When asked about joining such an eclectic label, Perry replies, “I think there is a geographical affinity regardless of genre. It’s not that we’re all singing about cheese curds and Leinie’s, rather it’s that we share a working class sensibility … you just punch in and get it done. There’s this friendly, low-key cross pollination that engenders openness and respect even if someone else’s thing isn’t your thing.”
At a running time of 78 minutes (CD version), it’s what you might call “epic country,” and given the state of contemporary country, essentially pop music in cowboy/cowgirl drag, it’s a welcome bloom upon the landscape. “I do recall the day I observed Tim McGraw twirling in purple fog beneath a disco ball the size of a Volkswagen while singing ‘We’re just country boys and girls getting down on the farm,’ and on that day I realized country music might be … ummm … changing. I take my lead from the one namers: Waylon, Merle, Buck, Loretta, and the singer/songwriters Steve Earle, Patty Griffin, James McMurtry, John Prine, Greg Brown,” offers Perry.
And Perry can spin a lyrical yarn with the best of his heroes. Opening track Alice Mayhew Jackson presents his trademark circularity as a storyteller, moving listeners from the darkness of abuse to a kind of sublime triumph. For the unrepentant sinner, give If They Give You Wings a spin – allusions to the flight of Icarus, the fall from grace in the garden and that most famous of Dylan Thomas lines abound. It all builds, however, to the elegiac beauty of the title track written, as Perry says, “In honor of my nephew Jake, who died when he was a toddler. Jake loved airplanes.” It’s a powerful piece, a fitting close to the album, and its imagery will stay with you for days. And for those who physically pick up a copy of Tiny Pilot, there are three bonus tracks, including a 13-minute field recording of an airplane. “The airplane recording was originally included to honor the actual pilot of the airplane who used that very craft to salute my nephew with a graveside fly-by at his funeral service,” discloses Perry.
Tiny Pilot is an album you selfishly want to keep but ultimately cannot. Like a secret that must come out, it is a collection of songs that must be heard. This is music for long sojourns into the kind of country darkness that makes one pine all the more for the stars. This is music to draw down the moon.