Jerry Joseph has announced the release of The Beautiful Madness, produced by Patterson Hood with Drive-by Truckers as his backing band, on August 21, 2020 on Cosmo Sex School/Soundly Music in North America and Décor Records/El Cortez in Europe, Australia and New Zealand. The album contains 10 tracks which explore the territory Joseph understands best, the darker side of the human condition, calling attention to the toll politics take on humanity, the under-explored dynamics in relationships, and the truths about ourselves we’d rather not see. These songs include some of his most masterful yet and are all written with his trademark intelligence and courage, delivered with his powerful, raw passion.
This collaboration between long-time friends Joseph and Hood was something they had both thought about for years, but hadn’t spoken about until a couple of years ago when Joseph mentioned to Hood that he’d like to make an album with him. Hood recalls, “I thought he’d never ask.”
Hood had already given thought on how he’d approach the album, he explains, “My goal was simple. I considered Jerry one of the absolute best songwriters of our generation and wanted to make an album that, above all, backed up that argument. I wanted to capture the songs in their purest forms with only the embellishments that I thought would further that case. My rule of thumb was if it didn’t further the narrative it should be left off. Jerry, to his credit, signed on enthusiastically, even though it often pulled him far out of his comfort zones. He responded by bringing in some of the greatest songs he’d ever written and he threw himself into each and every performance.”
Joseph adds, “When I start writing a group of songs, I rarely have some driving vision as to where I’m going with them. I have always been in awe and more than a little jealous of artists that seem to get marching orders from other worlds.”
“From the moment Patterson and I began talking about making this record, I thought Patterson could read instructions from chemtrails or star dust. His commitment to the work and his drive and leadership to deliver how he heard the record in his head was unwavering. I’ve made a few records, I’ve never seen anything quite like it, and not in an over techy studio freak way, but his search to get the soul (and unnecessary excess) out of every note was a beautiful thing to behold. He pushed me into places I didn’t know existed, for me anyway, to an end that I think we are both very proud of.”
For this album, Hood wanted to focus on Jerry and his songs without normal band dynamics so he chose to work with his band, the Drive-by Truckers.
“I chose to work with my band since we have a long experience of working on side projects with a host of different performers (Bettye LaVette and Booker T. Jones included) and we tend to approach each of our respective projects with a ‘less is more’ approach that I thought would work especially well for this project. Even though Drive-By Truckers has always been known as a live Rock and Roll Band, we came of age amongst the session recording scene in Muscle Shoals, Alabama and we’ve always viewed doing these side projects as a way to live out that dream.”
The album was recorded at Matt Patton’s studio, Dial Back Sound, in Water Valley, Mississippi, with chief engineer, Bronson Tew. The band, christened The Stiff Boys by Joseph, was Brad Morgan on drums, Matt Patton on bass, Hood on guitar and Jay Gonzalez on piano, organ, Wurlitzer and synthesizer. Schaefer Llana sang harmonies and vocals. They recorded the album in six days.
Later Mike Cooley (bringing the full DBT to a couple of songs) added banjo and guitar and Jason Isbell played slide guitar on one track. Kyleen King (Brandi Carlisle, The Shins, Stephen Malkmus) played viola on several tracks and Little Sue Weaver added harmonies. Adam Lee mixed the whole thing at Halfling Studio in Portland Oregon.
The first single, “Days of Heaven,” was named after the Terrence Malick film. Hood describes, “Like the film, it’s filled with beautiful imagery that paints a picture while leaving itself wide open for your interpretation. It was the first song we tracked at the session and the last one we finished in mix-down. It sets a mood that opens up the horizon for what’s to come.”
Joseph’s writing process often starts with a list of titles, he borrows them from books, movies, road signs, wherever. With his list of titles, he headed to his brother’s house in El Sauzal, Mexico with the intention of writing songs for the album.
“I’ve written many songs there over thirty years, it sits on a steep bluff above an excellent surf break, to the south a mile or two is the barrio de El Sauzal. For years there’s been a low intensity fire fight between the young newly rich meth and fentanyl manufacturers against the established older cartels and the government (same same) enforcers, trying to shut them down. It had been flaring up as I arrived and my brother was strongly concerned about how recently young gang members had been coming up the cliff and coming in through back doors, killing everyone and taking everything.”
“At his insistence, I kept the .45, action off, on the table with my iPad and note paper for the few days I was there to write, adding a weird vibe to the songs I was writing.”
“I had unintentionally started a thread of songs in South Africa a few months before that were dealing with marriage, mine or anyone’s, long-term relationship and the extreme high and lows and, more interestingly, the middle of marriages.”
“The first title on my list was ‘Days of Heaven,’ and as I often do to break into a batch of songs, I let myself play familiar chords (in this case, the trademark chord progression of the seminal BloodKin, one of the south’s finest bands) and babble and holler until I have something. This process for this song took 30 minutes, often these first fast songs are the best of the bunch. The words for these songs come faster than I can write and I miss a lot but it sets a good tone.”
“Months later, I got to Mississippi and Patterson Hood kept saying it needed a bridge, I told him to write it, and just as quickly, he came up with the whole cinematic prairie goodness that actually makes the song and lines that make me cry when I sing it. I think The Truckers and myself cut it in three takes.”
Hood concludes his beautiful missive of the liner notes in The Beautiful Madness, with, “Jerry, to me, is a cult figure who could, in some alternate reality, have easily been one of the biggest stars in the world. One of the greatest live performers I have ever seen and has long been one of my favorite songwriters.”
Jerry Joseph will be hosting Jerry Joseph’s Happy Book every Thursday at 9pm EDT/6pmPDT on all his social media channels, more info here. Live from his home or The Panther Studios in Portland, Joseph performs and tells the stories behind his catalog of over 300 songs with occasional guests.
Photo by Jason Thrasher