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Coming Into Focus

With a push start from Jeff Tweedy, White Denim finds cohesion on its latest LP

By Alan Sculley · June 10th, 2014 · Music
music2_white_denim_photo_mark_seligerWhite Denim - Photo: Mark Seliger

If Corsicana Lemonade, the fifth full-length studio album by White Denim, sounds like the group’s most focused yet, it didn’t happen by accident.

“I know everybody was thinking about every other song (on the album) while we were making it,” drummer Josh Block says. “It’s the most cohesive we’ve made.”

Words like “focused” and “cohesive” haven’t always been the first descriptions to come to mind when it came to White Denim’s output. The band has moved around quite a bit stylistically and sonically, but still has impressed critics and fans at every turn. The group’s second album, 2009’s Fits was a spiky, punky affair that touched on everything from spacy Blues to Jazz to ’70s Rock and Soul.

The download-only 2011 album, Last Day of Summer, was even more scattered stylistically than Fits, but had much of the same musical personality. The next effort, D, took White Denim’s music in a warmer, more expansive and somewhat psychedelic direction, while still retaining the expected eclecticism.

Last year’s Corsicana Lemonade is punchier in places and fuzzier around the edges than D, but it also has elements of Southern Roots and Prog. It also might be the group’s catchiest effort yet, with songs that are stripped back of extraneous instrumental parts, despite still having some jammy — but not indulgent — moments built into several of the songs.

On “At Night In Dreams,” the band opens with a guitar lick that would impress Jimmy Page, before settling into some Southern boogie. “Limited By Stature” manages to merge Psychedelic and Blues-tinged Southern Rock, while still packing a major melodic punch.

The title song sounds like something Yes might have done if the Prog Rock legends had grown up on Country music. “Let It Feel Good (My Eagles)” has a rootsy, acoustic Country feel crossed with some Black Crowes-ish strut. There’s a bit of Black Keys in the bluesy crunch of “Pretty Green.” Yet somehow, Corsicana Lemonade sounds cohesive despite covering its share of stylistic ground.

In making Corsicana Lemonade, the group — which includes Block, singer/guitarist James Petralli, guitarist Austin Jenkins and bassist Steve Terebecki — took a significant step away from the way it had made previous albums.

Earlier albums had been produced by Block. But while on tour with Wilco in early 2012, they got to know the band members, and frontman Jeff Tweedy suggested that White Denim come up to Wilco’s Chicago studio for a recording session. Tweedy only had a window of five days or so in his schedule, but the session produced two songs on the new album: “Distant Relative Salute” and “A Place To Start.”

The latter song title is fitting because that session, Block says, set a tone for the entire project. Even though the bulk of Corsicana Lemonade was recorded in the band’s home base of Austin, Texas, Tweedy’s main goal of recording the entire band playing live and capturing the organic feel of an actual band performance became the watchword for the entire project.

“We still did our old method of overdubbing when we were in the studio in Austin, but we kind of made sure that we kept (Tweedy’s) vision going,” Block says.

Tweedy and his engineer, Tom Schick, eventually re-entered the project by mixing six of the 10 tracks on Corsicana Lemonade. In a sense it brought the project full circle and added to the continuity of the album.

“The idea was to do the record with Tweedy,” Block says. “A lot of the reason we didn’t is because there were schedule issues for a lot of it.”

“So, yeah, it was nice for the record to go back home for a few weeks and get the (Tweedy/Schick) treatment,” he continues. “They did a fantastic job of doing exactly what they set out to do, which is very reductive, trying to find the core elements of the tune and really hit that up.”

Along with the Corsicana Lemonade songs, Block says White Denim’s live set touches on all of the group’s albums. And with Jenkins having joined the band in 2010, the group has solidified its sound as a four-piece, particularly onstage.

“It’s freed up James to sing a little more,” Block says. “We can make some of those transitions with less of an instrumental break or make more abrupt instrumental-to-vocal sections, we can make more abrupt changes between the two. And of course, obviously, it’s given us the ability to cover more ground (instrumentally) because all of those records had guitar overdubs. We never tried to put everything into the live show that was on the record, so now we can cover a little more ground.”

WHITE DENIM plays at 8:30 p.m. Sunday, June 15 at Southgate House Revival. Tickets/more info here.



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