Much of the conversation about the Baptist Generals' Jackleg Devotional to the Heart, the 10 years-in-the-waiting follow-up to the Denton, Texas-based band's Sub Pop debut, No Silver/No Gold, has centered on exactly what singer/songwriter Chris Flemmons was doing during the decade-long stretch of national inactivity.
In this week's issue of the New Times, Glenn BurnSilver sums it up in an interview with Flemmons: "There's a bit of a misconception, [in which] people think I worked on the album for 10 years. What happened is I shelved the record in 2005, and then I got involved in some development politics [in Denton.] That ended being about two and a half years. Then I was involved in starting a music festival in Denton and that ended up taking another three and a half years. Really, the album was just delayed 10 years."
With the 10-year break accounted for, Flemmons is glad the discussion is finally turning to his new record's content. Not that he's comfortable with the alt-country/Americana tag most of the reviews are slapping onJackleg.
"All I know is that I've always had misgivings about folk music and Americana and stuff," Flemmons says. "I didn't want to do stuff that was in the same vein as anybody else, so I was trying to do my own thing."
Jackleg Devotional to the Heart might as well be a 12-song treatise on "doing your own thing."
If there is a "country" pulse to the record, it comes from Flemmons' distinctly battered croon, a weird, high-lonesome thing that feels undeniably Texan. But musically, it's anything goes. "My O My" opens with a soundtrack ready orchestra swell, dabbles in AOR noodling, then breaks down into an emotional sing-along. There's tight, compact rock, too, like the propulsive "Dog That Bit You," bolstered by a subtle brass-and-strings arrangement and a middle-finger salute of fuzz-boxed electric guitar.
"All these things come from different places," he says of the record's diverse palette. "We all have really broad tastes, and each one of us is not glued to one particular genre. Maybe some of us have favorites; like [multi-instrumentalist] Peter Salisbury's favorite music is Jamaican and ska. We all have this broad sense of music. I listen to a lot of tropicalismo, and spare electronic experimental stuff. Culturally, that's there. I think this album is more listenable than anything we've ever done."
"I think of my music cinematically, to me it's about a feeling and a place, not necessarily a story. It's very visual, you know?" -- Chris Flemmons, Baptist Generals
It's not just the minimalist, Steve Reich-evoking marimba that opens "Broken Glass" that separate the Generals from the pick-and-holler crowd. In "Clitorpus Christi" Flemmons paints an impressionistic scene of an unwashed john and a particularly loud hooker. It doesn't follow much of a narrative arc -- a standby in Americana -- but Flemmons isn't really going for that, he says.
"I think of my music cinematically. To me, it's about a feeling and a place, not necessarily a story," Flemmons says. "It's very visual, you know?"
With Jackleg, Flemmons let go of the control-freak tendencies he says made No Silver/No Gold "three months of hell." With a band confident and experimental backing him up, he had more time to focus on painting his scenes, with words and his singular creaking voice.
"I didn't want to blood-let anyone with this. I didn't want to do it that way," Flemmons says. "I have so much trust in the people I play with that I felt completely comfortable. I brought the songs at some point, and I brought the progressions. But at other points, I don't have any fucking ideas, so I let them see what they end up getting. It was very liberating."
The Baptist Generals are scheduled to perform Wednesday, July 17, at Crescent Ballroom.
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