“Grave blankets” are defined as decorative covers for gravesites. For nearly a decade, it seemed as though Chris Arduser — best known for his work with psychodots, The Bears, Adrian Belew and a variety of related bands and artists — had relegated his popular Americana side project of the same name to his own personal musical cemetery.
Between his ongoing responsibilities with the Blue Bird Trio, his burgeoning session work and officially launching his solo career, there seemed little room for additional output from The Graveblankets, who had released a trio of excellent albums in the 1990s. In 2000, Arduser and the band (bassist Bob Nyswonger, guitarist George Cunningham, violinist Karen Addie, vocalist Bridget Otto and a host of guests) released Where It Hurts, the last album of new Graveblankets material, followed by the 2001 release of Orphan Recordings, a collection of demos and unreleased tracks.
In 2003, Arduser released his debut solo album Hostage, followed by The Celebrity Motorcade in 2005 and Hapless in 2007. The ’Blankets were all but folded and packed away.
“There were a couple of appearances, but that shit didn’t really register; there was no release, I would just get Bob and George and the drummer du jour and whoever the other singer would be,” Arduser says over coffee at Sitwell’s in Clifton. “I was doing the ’dots and occasional Adrian tours, but the ’Blankets was the real labor of love for me. I did a lot of work in Nashville trying to finish Where It Hurts; I released two records on my own while trying to finish that record.
“After 10 years, I was just burned out. It was one more gig where nobody made much money, and I was sick of it. I was ready to move on to something else.
Then The Bears started working in earnest to do the Car Caught Fire record, and I realized I needed something to sell on the road that’s just mine. I had demos that I’d done for a Nashville publishing deal, and that became my first solo record.”
With The Bears’ temporary resurrection and Arduser’s ascending solo career, it seemed The Graveblankets had been relegated to the coolest back burner. Interest was rekindled when Folk promoter Steve Carson approached Arduser and Cunningham to gauge their interest in working with his daughter, 18-year-old violinist/vocalist Rosie Carson.
“Everyone had noticed her over the years,” Arduser says. “She would play in the lobby at the 20th Century when Richard Thompson played there. I remember my wife and I walked in and said, ‘Who’s that tall girl who’s playing the violin pretty damn good?’ We did an initial short set in a coffeehouse, and it worked really good, and we did another gig and it was really good. Then Steve approached me to see if I wanted to do a live-in-the-studio recording of our repertoire. I thought about it, but you never know what you’re going to get playing live in the studio, so why not take a little extra time and do something you can stand behind.”
Arduser did extensive pre-production — something he’d never done before — and as a result he and the reconstituted ’Blankets recorded the new album, Error Avenue, in a mere three days. The trick is that the band didn’t write for the album: Error Avenue is comprised of a handful of covers (Carson sings the Sandy Denny classic “Who Knows Where the Time Goes,” an atmospheric arrangement of The Beatles’ “Blackbird” and the traditional “Wayfaring Strangers”) fleshed out with new recordings of songs that have previously appeared on albums by the Graveblankets, Bears and Cunningham.
For The Graveblankets’ comeback at Molly Malone’s last July, Arduser assembled a four-song EP featuring a quartet of unearthed ’Blankets tracks. Predictably, the gig was a rousing success, setting the stage for the imminent release of Error Avenue. Arduser sees the band’s future as shades brighter with Carson’s addition.
Although they’ll be on a much more temporary hiatus when Carson tours early next year with British Folk/Rock artist Teddy Thompson (son of legendary music couple Richard and Linda Thompson) to support his soon-to-be-released new album, Arduser considers The Graveblankets officially back. True to form, he remains as busy as ever, his schedule packed with Blue Bird Trio gigs, psychodots plans (he hints at a possible new recording if the planets align) and a half-completed new solo album.
“I’m in a different place now,” Arduser says. “I’m in my early fifties, and I’m back in those early days of the ’Blankets when I was filled with piss and vinegar. (Back then) it was, ‘Maybe we can get a record deal, there’s a lot of music that sounds like what I’ve been doing on alternative radio,’ then the whole industry imploded and I realized I could make my own records. Now there’s no expectations, and it’s a happier time.”
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