--purchase CD here: store.cdbaby.com/cd/walterehresman
A poignant, emotionally-complex set of songs that runs the gamut from love to betrayal and heartbreak, with a little humor and political commentary on the side. Musically diverse, from jazzy to folky to the vibe of vintage Stones. His most commercially accessible release yet.
Halloween, 2010 sees the release of Walter Ehresman's 13th solo album--"Well.....Let's Looks at Your Track Record, Shall We?". The dark humor of the album cover shows the devil in his law office (there's a hell for ya), evaluating a new politician arrival and determining to which level he/she will be assigned. Pretense, lies and dissembling stripped away...........only the truth, folks. If you know Ehresman's work, you know it--at its essence--to be a search for truth in the universe and in human behavior.
Fans of the Austin, Texas songwriter and multi-instrumentalist know to expect a wide variety of musical styles on Ehresman's albums, and the new release doesn't disappoint. Big, jaunty horn sections appear at one moment, stinging lead guitar the next . But this album reflects more of a jazzy feel than any of his previous work. This is most overtly heard in the song “Echo Down the Years,” a subtle jazz ballad that has a timeless quality that could lead the listener to believe it was written 50 years ago, or 500 years from now.
“I had written a song called ‘That Summer Sun’ last year for the Delphi Rising album we were recording,” Ehresman remembers, “and I sent the lyrics to my friend Greg in Dallas....The song is about love in the ruins after the global climate-change meltdown.......He remarked that he liked it, and added smart-assedly that I should make a career of writing post-apocalyptic love songs.” Ehresman laughs, “not to be out-smart-assed, I replied that I bloody well would, and that led to me writing ‘Echo Down the Years’.....The song is written from the perspective of the future remnants of mankind sifting through records of the time when Earth’s undoing was so gleefully pursued by 21st century humanity.....The few that are left are looking for some kind of inspiration from the past, to give them the spark and hope to continue, and in this search they find evidence of a great love between one man and one woman.” He adds, "I want to give special thanks to my friend Gary Grossenbacher's son, Max, for bringing his jazz training to the table for the piano part in this song." The jazzy guitar is played by Ehresman on a vintage Gibson ES-175 through an emulated bass amp, while he played the bass part on a beautiful Renaissance 4-string fretless bass.
It’s a deeply romantic song, despite it’s setting, which begs the question of what else might have inspired it. “I did write this song for a woman I was going out with at the time,” Ehresman reluctantly admits. “I thought this was the girl I would be marrying, but she unexpectedly dumped me in the middle of the sessions for this album.” Indeed, many of the tracks on the album seem to reflect the stellar heights and crushing lows of that relationship. “Yes, all the love songs on this album were written for her,” he says, “and it won’t take a forensic team to tell which songs were written as I was being kicked to the curb and in the aftermath of that.”
And there are some very romantic love songs on this album. Besides “Echo Down the Years,” there is the long, multi-part “Lady Sky.” Featuring glistening keyboards, prominent 5-string Rickenbacker bass inspired by Chris Squire, and thick layers of vocal backing, the song has an innocence in its celebration of a woman who is the light of the man’s world. “At the time, I was reading Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving, and there is this recurring redemptive character named Lady Sky, who enters the story as a naked skydiver during a thunderstorm.....The protagonist’s young son tells her ‘You’re an angel!’, to which she replies ‘well....an angel sometimes’....The character is more felt than seen in the book, representing hope, nurturing, compassion and redemption.” Ehresman adds, “we should all have a Lady Sky in our lives.”
The presence of a song featuring ukelele is certainly a first for Ehresman. As he recalls, “the girl I was in love with was going through a phase of liking Hawaiian music and dance, and so she gave me an electric ukelele for my birthday last year.....I didn’t know how to play it, but luckily it came with a chord book, so I was able to write her a bouncy little island love song and give it to her for her birthday.” A short, happy declaration of feeling, the song is propelled along by the uke with backing from acoustic guitar and mandolin, with stand-up bass and lite percussion parts providing the underpinning. “When I was writing it, I could see the song as being in a movie about a semi-seedy, gambling hipster who somehow finds himself being loved by a woman much too good for him....The part would be played by David Johansen, wearing a crumpled fedora and repeatedly going to the track when he wasn’t supposed to,” Ehresman laughs. “I can see him in the surf, grabbing the girl’s legs and begging her not to go, protesting his love and claiming he’ll do better.” Any tie-in to real life there? “No, not really,” he smiles. “I don’t gamble, and I look like crap in a fedora.....Plus, I was never in the New York Dolls.”
The new album is Ehresman’s first to really feature love songs with lyrics. “Historically,” he explains, “I’ve always been scared to death to write love song lyrics, because the dangers of being trite–and blinded by your love to that triteness–are so inherent in the process.....But this girl inspired me to set that aside and dive in, which I did with both feet.” He adds, “It will certainly be up to the listener to determine whether I stepped on the triteness landmine or not.”
Then there are the songs reflecting betrayal and loss. “Unfortunately,” says Ehresman, “I have written these types of songs before.” Track #8, “How Hot Are Those Coals?”, was written in the midst of Ehresman finding that his relationship was falling apart. “I actually wrote the song and recorded it very quickly, so I could play it for her and try to let it speak for my heart better than my other words evidently could,” he recalls. “Needless to say, it didn’t work, and that led to the title of the song.” He elaborates, “I would have walked through fire for that girl, but in the end, she would only ask, noncommittally 'how hot are those coals....?’.” The song is based around 12-string acoustic guitar and an accordion part, with an 8-string Kramer bass entering halfway through and a tasty single-coil electric guitar solo to finish things off. Overdubbed stacks of acoustic mandolins trill in and out.
Juxtaposing the sad narrative of the breakup with a driving British Invasion sound, “Knocked to My Hands & Knees” captures the vintage Rolling Stones sound circa 1966. “As with my past albums, I do almost all of the instruments and vocals on this one myself,” he says, “but for ‘Knocked to My Hands & Knees,’ I knew that I wanted a more live feel......So my good friend James Rader, who played drums with me in Delphi Rising, and I went over to Million Dollar Sound studio in Austin to record this song.” Full of vintage amps and retro live-in-the-studio vibe, the song features Ehresman playing all the guitars and basses and displaying more of a Keith Richards style than his past work would indicate he had in his bag of tricks. “What really makes the track, to me,” he enthuses, “is the drum work and background vocals from James.....He did multiple backing vocal tracks, which is something that he really excels at.” The results are a pop/rock gem that would be at home in a variety of radio formats.
The final song that follows the rise and fall of his relationship is “Flood the Empty Quarter.” Acoustic guitar and lyrically driven, the song takes inspiration from the classic country/folk tear-jerkers of the past. “I’m, of course, not really a country player,” he states, “but I can sure appreciate a cry-in-your-beer vintage country song as much as the next guy.” Full of desolation and loss, the song features a fine 5-string electric violin solo from British ex-pat and long-time Austin musician Nigel Jacobs. “Nigel is a good friend of mine,” Ehresman say, “and I’ve always wanted to get him to play on one of my albums.....For this song, I knew that he could put in a solo that harkened back to the British folk sound of Dave Swarbrick, and he sure pulled it off.” The title of the song refers to the vast desert waste that makes up the majority of the Saudi Arabian peninsula.
Two of the songs demonstrate the biting social criticism that has been a staple of Ehresman’s songwriting arsenal from the very beginning. Each of these songs deals with how the darkness in men's souls manifests through their politics. "Bad Faith" was written during the Summer of '09, when Right Wing loonies from the Tea Party (ginned up by bottomless corporate money coming in on the sly) disrupted town hall meetings around the country where national health care was discussed. Ehresman sighs, “It is very disappointing that Obama didn't get, and still doesn't seem to get, that you can't be the only person in a negotiation working in good faith and expect to get a good process or good outcome......I would have thought someone from Chicago wouldn’t be that naive.” The song features a wonderful sample of Congressman Barney Frank calling bullshit on one of the Tea Baggers at a town hall meeting of his that summer. Additionally, there's a lyrical tip of the hat to a pivotal speech in the movie The American President. The album also includes, as a bonus track, a remix of "Bad Faith."
Why remix your own song? “Well, all the cool kids are doing it!”, Ehresman says with a grin.
The first song recorded for the album, "Some Old White Dudes," bops along in a very Steely Dan sort of way, but with subtle electronica burblings in the rhythm track to update the sound. “This is a song idea that percolated in my brain for a while, but I finally found a handle on it last year,” he recalls. “The song is about what's called the Republican Party’s ‘Southern Strategy’, which was to use the wedge issue of civil rights during the LBJ administration to turn the once-solidly Democratic Deep South into a GOP stronghold based on the ingrained racism that is still such a strong part of Southern culture.......and that strategy is still what keeps the Republican base energized to this day......That the policies of the Far Right are terrible for most people in the south (which is by and large a poor area no matter what color you are) seems to matter less to these white voters than their strong desire to reclaim their antebellum past with blacks in a subservient role.....There seems to be this ongoing bitterness that they can't sit on the plantation porch, beneath the high white columns, and have a black man in livery bring them a mint julep each time fingers are snapped..... And so they vote their hate and bigotry, and shoot themselves in the foot every time.”
So a little light listening there.
The album opener, "Summer Calls the Shots," is an unapologetic pop paean to unbridled teenage joy in the summer sun. According to Ehresman, “this is my first attempt at writing a flat-out summer pop anthem......The song tries to capture that feeling when you're 16 of the limitless possibilities of adding the beach, the sun, a lack of adult supervision, and the girl all together with the right music......I hope listening to it induces spontaneous summer behavior,” he says with a smile. The song is infectious from the first note, full of buoyant horn parts, electric piano and bouncy bass guitar. An almost-surf rock guitar part twangs underneath, and the solo (on the shark guitar shown on the album cover) is backed by lock-step scat singing. No irony in this song, despite the Steely Dan feel at times.....just a celebration of a moment in time that young people everywhere should get to have at least once.
The album also contains Ehresman’s tribute to the late Jon Bessent, who was a major fixture on the Austin music scene for decades until he passed away unexpected in 2009. Ehresman recalls sadly “Jon was a guitar gear repairman extraordinaire, and someone who always supported my efforts to make music in the DYI methods I use......He always used to say ‘May the tone be with you’ as his parting benediction when you left his shop, and so my tribute is called ‘May the Tone Be With You, Jon.’......The album as a whole is dedicated to Jon and his wonderful spirit, which will always be with us.” A sad, beautiful piece, the song features double-course acoustic instruments like 10-string bouzouki, with a prominent role played by electric mandolin and mandola. Subtle piano enters half-way through and adds a bittersweet sonic texture.
The album features ten songs in its regular section, with three bonus tracks and one hidden track. The first bonus track is an alternate version of “Echo Down the Years” which features the lovely vocals of Patricia Jacobs (first heard on “Deep Tiki” on Ehresman’s 2009 release Monkey Paw Situation) as well as some lush string section parts from Ehresman on keyboards replacing his keyboard flute passages in the main version of the song.
The second bonus track is “Deep Honesty Hits a ‘Berg.” Ehresman is reluctant to talk about this track, beyond saying that it was recording in the immediate aftermath of the ending of his relationship earlier this year. With a purposely lo-fi santoor part played by Ehresman on electric percussion pads, the piece achieves its sense of abandonment, hopelessness and desolation through the sounds of a ship going down at sea, as heard from a great distance by those clustered around the radio in the storm-wracked lighthouse. All blips and blurts and static interference, interspersed with short vocal samples which provide commentary on the foundering in his soul. “She used to say that our relationship was different because we would always practice ‘deep honesty’ between us,” he murmurs. “Turns out, in the end, only one of us was doing that.”
The hidden track is a spontaneous, late-night creation called “After HST, It’s All Damn Statistics.” Austin guitar player Chris Finelli provides rhythm guitar and most of the sly, humorous vocal asides. Ehresman plays the remainder of the instruments, including a twisted Marc Ribot-like atonal part on the shark guitar, a warbling, seasick fretless bass, and joyfully-unrestrained “outside” piano. Not to mention a stealth appearance by one of his favorite anarchic instruments--the Opti-Freak. Chaos and musical hilarity ensue.
So that’s “Well....Let’s Look at Your Track Record, Shall We?", in a nutshell. A journey full of twists and turns, both musically and emotionally, with taste and attention to detail consistent throughout. Ehresman continues to mature as a songwriter and musician, and it’s fascinating to think where he will go next.
"A veteran of the Austin, Texas music scene, Walter Ehresman has seen his share of musicians and ensembles come and go. With over two decades of live performances and releases under his belt, he’s been known to tackle genres as seemingly far apart as night and day. The title of his latest album (Well…Let’s Look at Your Track Record, Shall We?) could be a question that he aims squarely at himself as the love songs included are pulled from personal experiences during the making of this project. Upon looking at the front cover and seeing guitars situated on either side of him (particularly that shark guitar), one may come to the conclusion that Walter is strictly an axe man. However, this isn’t an album full of Joe Satriani or Steve Vai Stratocaster intricacies. If anything, Ehresman is interested in creating both vocal and instrumental songs of substance.
Proving himself to be a jack of all trades, his studio approach is of the one-man band variety. In addition to playing guitars and bass, Walter can be heard on keyboards, electronic percussion and vocals. He is responsible for each composition on the album, which plays like a freeform station not held down to conservative programming restrictions. This unpredictability not only shows up from song to song, but from moment to moment. The spunky horn-laden intro of “Summer Calls The Shots” quickly changes into a serene aural memory of days gone by and fun in the sun. It connects neatly with the ukulele pop of “Oh, Anuhea,” which shamelessly includes playful lyrics like “You got the shimmy that makes me freaky / you are the mojo in my tiki.” Such happy-go-lucky sentiments are pushed aside by “Bad Faith,” Ehresman’s attempt at techno. Its rhythmic movements are a little clumsy, but the scathing lyrical critique makes up for that. “So I’m calling for a gut check in the land of the free,” he declares, “and for marginalization of the purposefully blind.” The verbal crosshairs seem to be aimed squarely at the Tea Party, and a particularly stinging and hysterical sample of Barney Frank lands the final blow. “Trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with a dining room table: I have no interest in doing it!”
The jazz number “Echo Down The Years” is a beautifully performed piece even if Ehresman’s vocal chops aren’t always up to the challenge of crooning effectively. (Guest vocalist Patricia Munoz-Jacobs sounds wonderful on version #2 of this same song.) However, he sounds best when belting out the heartbreak numbers, “Knocked To My Hands & Knees” and “Flood The Empty Quarter.” The former shields his emotions through its straightforward rock and roll execution while the latter is all feelings and reflection. Over a melancholy country melody, Walter warns, “So be careful what you wish for or your hopes will all be emptied / and I would not wish this feeling on a man too proud to fall.” You can taste the bitterness and regret within his delivery of that line.
Equally poignant is “May The Tone Be With You, Jon,” dedicated to the memory of Jon Bessent, a close friend and music gear repairman in Austin. Ehresman handles the mandolin, bouzouki, and mandola with the utmost professionalism and tenderness, making the song the most touching moment on the album. Walter’s latest full-length offers something for everyone, but the genre hopping may not be appreciated by all of its listeners. However, if you don’t mind psychedelic and prog rock moments sitting alongside world music and smoky jazz numbers, this release just might fulfill every color of your sonic palette."
--Jason Randall Smith, Ariel
"Summer Calls the Shots" is a brassy and musically ambitious song……The guitar solo, with Walter's….scatting………is also ambitious and cool, ala George Benson….Although this song doesn't fit into the 4 minute pop song mold, his key changes keep you entranced to want to keep listening, and it truly takes you on a journey…..It's rock, it's eclectic, it's brash, and fun. My favorite is "Oh Anuhea", which uses a Hawaii ukulele and a fantastic sense of humor……Walter's songs would do really well in movies where the scene requires the song to carry the mood…..Walter displays a mix of emotions and stories in his musical tales and makes us all think, which is refreshing in songs these days where we are generally asked to only tap to the beat….. "Echo Down the Years" ……is a real gem, and is laid back and cool. As I slid into the love story of this song, I imagined myself in a hammock on an island, taken into dream land with Walter's mastery of metaphors and story telling…..Overall, Well....Let's Look at Your Track Record, Shall We? is an ambitious and musically eclectic smorgasbord of storytelling, music experimentation, solid musicianship, and a journey through time and eras. I felt like I was in Walter's movie of his life and it was a very pleasant ride.
--Songsalive!, Dec. 2011 (in making Ehresman their feature artist for Jan. and Feb. 2012)
"Songs like “Echo Down the Years” are well-written, poignantly penned compositions that stand out on the record......."
--Matthew Warnock, ReviewYou