The veteran player takes musical snapshots on a new album: from good times to hardships in southern towns, gritty cities, and characters met along the way
Michael McAdam Steps Out On the Streets With
Tremolo – to be released April 15
He reveals formidable gifts for insight, humor, and melody through it all, fueled by acoustic, electric, and slide guitars that shimmer, rumble, and soar
from my second-story window, looking down on city park
she crossed the street at Laurel, by the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart
as a band played Little Queenie, out of tune but really loud
she crisscrossed at the fountain, and disappeared into the crowd – “My Little Queenie”
“If you’re a sideman, Nashville tends to put you in a box,” says Mike McAdam, “Then they’re sometimes surprised to find you’re also capable of something else.” And as for McAdam, the guitarist who has been one of Americana’s most formative sidemen for 40 years, his new singer-songwriter album Tremolo is clearly about thinking – and shining – way outside the box. The album is slated for an April 15 release on his Permanent Records label.
If Mike’s name sounds familiar, it may be as co-founder of infamous late ’70s/early ’80s mid-Atlantic roots rockers The Good Humor Band from Richmond, VA. Or maybe it was touring and recording as lead guitarist for some of Nashville’s songwriter icons such as Steve Earle & The (original) Dukes, Foster & Lloyd, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Jim Lauderdale, Radney Foster, Jack Ingram, Chris Knight, and dozens more, always lending his instrument’s voice in support. But with Tremolo – his first album since his acclaimed 2003 solo debut A Million Miles – Mike McAdam has once again struck gold with his distinctive and authentic voice. “I’m definitely an observer,” he says, “and songwriting is just storytelling. I’ve spent most of my life listening closely to the great songwriters, and I’ve been lucky enough to tour and record with some of the absolute best as well. The goal was to make a record with a similar sense of integrity.”
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” – Ernest Hemingway
Co-produced over at Silvertone Recording Service in Nashville, TN, with his old friend Jack Irwin – best known as a longtime producer for David Olney. The two hunkered down over the past year or so with some friends, with the intent to make a great record. Tremolo features eight songs written or co-written by McAdam, with covers of Tim Hardin’s “Don’t Make Promises” and a straight-ahead rocker “I’m Free” from The Rolling Stones. Although McAdam plays most of the instruments, he had some help from some of his old GHB pals, the affable Garry Tallent (from the E Street Band), and a mandolin part lifted from the original demo version of “Little Places” from the late Butch Baldasarri. Michael also called on songwriter great Kim Richey for guest harmony vocals.
when love lives in little places
and grows stronger most every day
in nooks and crannies and open spaces
in Volkswagens and Chevrolets – “Little Places”
From the keen character studies and power-pop harmonies of “A Northern Girl,” ‘My Little Queenie,” and “Allentown” to the intimately laid-back urgency of “Kingdom Come” and “Hand on the Trigger” to the wise acoustic ironies of “Little Places” and beyond, McAdam sculpts a uniquely American landscape of tough luck, good times, and hard-fought hope. “Songwriting clearly takes on a separate set of muscles than just playing guitar,” McAdam admits, “and writing from other than just the first-person definitely taps into deeper storytelling. The most important part is just trying to write honestly. Some of it comes from taking a clear-eyed look at the past, good and bad – the right decisions as well as the mistakes. I also wonder, if I hadn’t made those mistakes, would I have become the same person I am now,” smiles Michael.
you kicked and burned, and you screamed inside
and they fed you lies so long and bled you dry
now the highway key is in your hand
make your move right now and baby, make your stand – “Hand on the Trigger”
For McAdam, Tremolo is a welcome chapter in his own creative journey as well as the genre whose sound he’s helped shape for more than 40 years. “I suppose I’ve always played what they now call Americana,” he says. “I grew up surrounded by ’60s radio – rock & roll, pop, R&B, folk, psychedelia, and classic country; I absorbed a lot from those varied musical influences. Plus, I was stubborn enough to refuse to play music I didn’t really enjoy. When I landed in Nashville in 1986, my first gig was with Steve Earle & The Dukes, and I’ve luckily continued playing guitar for somebody cool ever since. The Nashville artists I respect the most are a little left of center; I’ve worked with a bunch of them and learn from them all.”
“I didn’t have a clue what I was going to call this record; I thought about using a song for the title cut, thought about just picking a good line from one of the tunes, you know,” said McAdam, “then I started wondering if there was one thing that all of these songs had in common? Tremolo! Ding! That’s it! My favorite musical effect, Tremolo, whether it’s a mandolin, an electric guitar, violin, whatever, it can make an instrument sound more dramatic, sweeter, sadder, more psychedelic, starker, more like rain or a heartbeat, depending upon how you use it. It became the working title for the record; then, I came across the photograph that became the album cover. The photograph just looked to me like tremolo sounds in my head, so Tremolo kinda stuck.”
And for one celebrated sideman, stepping front and center with Tremolo may now be the most welcome gig of all.
Tremolo is on the streets on April 15 on Permanent Records.
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