The World Ends with a Twang: Luke Powers' New CD Memphis Mermaid
College English professor and Americana songwriter Luke Powers takes on the rise and fall of America and Memphis, Tennessee, in latest release.
Dec. 1, 2012 (Nashville, TN) – Luke Powers has a Ph.D. in songwriting—actually English, but he's built an impressive reputation as an original Americana songwriter drawing comparisons to Warren Zevon, John Prine and James McMurtry. Unafraid of eccentricity, Powers writes songs that are both witty and serious—an antidote to the dumb-down age of contemporary American culture.
In his latest release, the Nashville songwriter and college English professor takes inspiration from the fabled Bluff City. Memphis Mermaid (2012) is his fifth solo CD on Phoebe Claire Records It is available on CDBaby.com and I-Tunes. It is distributed in Europe by Hemifran. Music videos are available on Youtube.
“There's a real mermaid,” he explains, “though I'm not sure how she ended up in Memphis.”
The song cycle revolves around all things Memphis—at once home to Elvis, Sun Records and Stax/Volt, but also the city where Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated, and Elvis imploded in Graceland.
“Memphis is a microcosm,” Powers muses, “of living in the aftermath of the American Dream.”
Once a melting pot of races and musical cultures---blues, R&B, rockabilly, soul and rock-n-roll—the city now has one of the highest murder rates in the country and suffers from insoluble problems of racial division, social inequality and urban blight. Powers recalls the legend of the exiled Chickasaw, who cursed the ground upon which fledgling city was laid out.
“I don't want to sound like I'm down on Memphis,” Powers emphasizes. “The city has a mythic pull as strong as the river. Every musician goes to Memphis in one way or another. Some sell a million records, some jump off a bridge.”
“I've been to Memphis,” he adds, “and I saw the mermaid—or one helluva catfish.”
Miracle or morass? The songs of Memphis Mermaid explore both visions of Memphis and America:
The trainbeat-driven “Trainssong” is a shout-out to Memphis' rockabilly roots.
“Memphis Belles” contrats the city's fabled past with a downbeat present: “Drugs, gangs, girls, guns/rape and murder just for fun.”
“Confederate Air Corps” tells the true story of the South's Civil War glider company.
“West Memphis Arkansas” takes a side-trip to Memphis' sordid sister city (site of the 1993 child slayings and home to “The West Memphis Three”).
“The Last Day of the World (12/21/12)” uses Memphis black plate-glass pyramid to explore Mayan myth.
But the CD also has its share of “mermaids”:
The title song is a close encounter of the Mississippi River kind.
Picasso inspires the “Girl with Mandolin,” a meditation on love and art.
“Jacqueline” is a sensitive portrait of a transgender boy/girl at the edge of puberty.
“Thank You (Hope It's Not Too Late)” offers a portrait of the artist's own birth and offers belated thanks to his mother and father (recently deceased Federal Judge John Y. Powers).
The CD features Chris Leuzinger (Garth Brooks, George Strait) on guitar; Michael Smotherman (Glen Campbell, Roger Miller, Captain Beefheart) on keyboards; Tim Lorsch (Goose Creek Symphony) on cello, mandolin and fiddle; and Tommy Spurlock (Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell) on steel guitar. Suzi Ragsdale (Ray Stevens, Guy Clark) sings harmony vocals—offering the mermaid a human voice. Bradley Hartman (Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris) mixed and mastered the CD at Austinwerks Sounds in Austin, Texas.
About Luke: In his eclectic career Powers has collaborated with musicians ranging from Garth Hudson (of The Band) to Richard Lloyd (of Television). Discovered by famed producer Brian Aherne (Emmylou Harris, Johnny Cash, George Jones), Luke has co-written songs with Earl Bud Lee (“Friends in Low Places”) and Mark Collie. His song “I Saw John Kennedy Today”, covered by producer Gurf Morlix (Lucinda Williams), won a Jammie Award in 2008. Luke's own Texasee (2009) was nominated for a Grammie in the Contemporary Folk category. James Pearson of the BBC praised its “16 GREAT tracks” and Chuck Hoster (KZUM) wrote: “music like this offers an alternative to what passes for music these days.”
In 2006 he joined Tommy Spurlock, Garth Hudson and others as The Spicewood Seven for the protest album Kakistocracy (meaning government by the most corrupt and least competant); it drew high critical praise: Kathy Coleman (about.com): “All in all, when it comes to making music, I have to give these guys two thumbs up - when it comes to speaking up about what's wrong, I don't have enough thumbs to give.” Stewart Mason (AMG): “Kakistocracy makes Steve Earle look like a milquetoast.”
Contact: Adam Zero, Marketing Director, Phoebe Claire Publishing, LLC (BMI)