Music News

Miracle Worker

Page 3 of 5

"I wanted somebody involved who would shake things up," says Wynn, "who would bring in weird ideas, things I wouldn't do on my own. But if you bring in someone you don't know to do that, you're always a little suspicious. You have that thing in the back of your head of, 'You obviously don't understand what I'm doing.' But with Chris, since we know each other so well, that wasn't a concern."

Wynn's trust in his old mate is rewarded as Cacavas infuses the proceeding with mesmeric organ drones, squiggles of Wurlitzer, atmospheric piano fills and swathes of synth noise -- elements that blithely weave their way into the warm, welcoming fabric of the album.

"He was constantly doing things on the record that were nuts," says Wynn. "Things that were weird, noisy or dissonant or against the character of the song, but I let him run with it."

Another friend who contributes is Giant Sand-man Gelb. The dedicated desert eclectic lends a further left field quality to the proceedings with a corrosive, contortionist guitar solo on "Sustain" and eerie piano/arrangement on the funk brooder "Topanga Canyon Freaks."

"Howe will typically do the exact opposite of what you think anybody would do," says Wynn, laughing. "It's like, it couldn't be more wrong. You can't imagine anybody taking a more contrary approach, but what he does always works out great."

Input from these multiple sources helped generate the kind of welcome creative tension that the singer was seeking. Throughout, Miracles benefits from the friendly tug of war being waged between Wynn's ideas and the players' interpretations of the material.

A perfect example of this occurs with "Morningside Heights." Though the finished track exudes a bittersweet Beach Boys vibe -- a languid, loungey mutation of "Surfs Up" and "'Til I Die" -- Wynn's original concept for the piece was set closer to Detroit than Doheney.

"In my mind I was trying to write a Motown soul song like 'Ooh, Baby, Baby' by the Miracles," he says. "But everybody came to the song -- like [Calexico's] John Convertino playing vibes -- with more of that Pet Sounds thing in mind. And I didn't try to force them the other way. That kind of thing makes for a more interesting record. You can't just pinpoint the influences."

Elsewhere, "Death Valley Rain" -- a song Wynn wrote after listening to the Feelies landmark Crazy Rhythms -- mutates from college-rock pastiche to classic rock romp, thanks to Cacavas' baritone guitar, which turns the tune into a kissin' cousin of Elvis' "Burning Love."

A veteran of projects ranging from Richard Buckner to the Friends of Dean Martinez, co-producer/engineer Craig Schumacher -- who also steps in with lap steel, harmonica and vocals -- deserves equal credit for the multicolored collage of sounds.

"Craig works differently than most producers. Instead of thinking in terms of a batch of tracks, he works on each song individually -- like they were a different character," says Wynn. "And he's very hands-on. He gets in there and throws up different mikes and different amps for each track, to give them a unique identity."

The full production team of Wynn, Cacavas and Schumacher forge an atmosphere so thick that, at times, you almost have to brush it away. The album possesses a sonic flair that delights in conjuring visceral imagery, whether it's grafting a ghostly choir of vocals onto the Burundi beat of "Strange New World," creating the spooky momentum of "Sunset to the Sea" or the dense wash of noise that comprises the white-hot "Smash Myself to Bits."

Wynn's core band, the Miracle 3, also generates a fair amount of heat, with drummer Linda Pitmon -- a veteran of Minneapolis pop-punks ZuZu's Petals -- turning out a handful of unassailably cool percussive touches: the rattlesnake shaker on "Strange New World"; the clink hammer of "Death Valley Rain"; the bone-dry snare of "Let's Leave It Like That." Meantime, bassist Dave DeCastro's oscillating four-string and the prowling tones of Chris Brokaw's guitar lend an adroit backing to a clutch of tunes that veer wildly -- and beautifully -- from start to finish.

Wynn's vocals similarly take on a variety of different hues: from lurching Time Out of Mind-Dylan ("Butterscotch") and the winsome, reedy register of Neil Young ("Good and Bad") to the deadpan delivery of old standby Lou Reed ("Blackout").

In sum, the scorched environs of the naked pueblo proved to be the very tonic needed to revitalize Wynn's muse.

"Going to Tucson, being around people who are kind of freaks. Working in a studio that specializes in recording freaks, with an engineer who has a good taste for freaks, but having the freaks all be friends of mine was a good combination," offers Wynn. "It was the best session I've ever had in my life."

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Bob Mehr
Contact: Bob Mehr