David Olney | Migration

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Folk: Folk Blues Rock: Americana Moods: Type: Acoustic
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by David Olney

David Olney is a singer-songwriter who inhabits the characters and roles that his lyrics create.
Genre: Folk: Folk Blues
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  Song Share Time Download
1. The Song
4:35 $0.99
2. Speak Memory
4:12 $0.99
3. Lenora
6:04 $0.99
4. No One Knows What Love Is
3:10 $0.99
5. My Lovely Assistant
3:19 $0.99
6. Light From Carolina
4:25 $0.99
7. All the Same To Me
2:47 $0.99
8. Ace of Spade Blues
4:44 $0.99
9. Oh Lord
3:17 $0.99
10. Birds
4:31 $0.99
11. Upside Down
2:26 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
"I think if I was ever going to do any other kind of self expression or artistic endeavor, I would probably be an actor."

The speaker is acclaimed singer-songwriter David Olney. No one who has ever sat transfixed at one of his live shows would deny his talent as a thespian. Moving from song to extraordinary song, Olney can be scary, hilarious, tender, enraged, loving or ironic. But he is always dramatic and unforgettable.

His records have these same qualities. Few have amassed a catalog of recorded performances that is so striking, distinctive and compelling. When most people think of a "singer-songwriter," they think of a confessional, inward-looking lyricist. David Olney will have none of that. Instead, he inhabits characters and roles that his lyrics create.

Migration, his latest LoudHouse Records collection, offers plenty of illustrations of that. In "Lenora" he is a migrating bird whose heart is broken when his mate is killed. Olney is a magician driven mad by love in "My Lovely Assistant." In "Oh Lord" he is a prisoner condemned to die. He is a gentle folk troubadour on "Birds" and "No One Knows What Love Is," a roaring rocker on "Upside Down" and "Speak Memory," a ferocious bluesman on "Ace of Spade Blues," a country boy on "Light From Carolina," a lover in "All the Same to Me" and a philosopher in "The Song."

"I always liked theater and plays," says Olney. "And I always kind of looked at songwriting that way. Instead of it being a way to explain to people what was going on inside me, it was more like, 'Here's a role I can take to do that.' For me, it worked out that I could get into things on a much deeper level by going through another character."

On previous albums, he has enacted Jesse James, John Barrymore, Omar Khayyam, John Dillinger, Barabbas, a World War I prostitute, the iceberg that sank the Titanic, a caterpillar, a boxer, a millionaire, baseball players, a huckster following Jesus and any number of criminals, low-life scoundrels and social outcasts. David Olney's dramatic flair has made him one of the world's great musical individualists.

"My first obligation is to the song. Then way down in second place, a distant second place, is to the audience. But I do believe in being a good entertainer. I've played a lot of gigs where there weren't many people there -- I always made sure that the ones who were there, got something they will remember."

An ever-larger number of people have witnessed his memorable performances. In addition to playing America's biggest festivals and finest acoustic clubs, Olney now tours annually in Europe. He has issued albums on Dutch and Italian labels, and performed for fans in Germany, Ireland, Scandinavia, England, Austria, Belgium, Switzerland and Holland.

Rave reviews in The New York Times, USA Today, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Miami Herald, The L.A. Times and elsewhere continue to build his popularity. Versions of his songs by others have also enhanced his reputation as "a songwriter's songwriter." Key artists who have sung and/or recorded David Olney songs are Emmylou Harris ("Deeper Well," "Jerusalem Tomorrow"), Steve Earle ("Saturday Night and Sunday Morning"), Del McCoury ("Queen Anne's Lace"), Johnny Cash ("Jerusalem Tomorrow"), Linda Ronstadt ("Women Across the River) and Linda & Emmylou as a duo ("1917").

So Migration appears at an upbeat time in David Olney's long career. A native of Lincoln, Rhode Island, the tunesmith has been playing guitar since age 14. From the start, his roots were in folk music. One of his guitar teachers was his older brother, who owned records by Leadbelly, The Kingston Trio, Woody Guthrie and other notables. Young Olney was also drawn to the moody, melodramatic music of Roy Orbison.

"I was probably 15 when I learned the lick to Ray Charles's "What'd I Say" on the guitar. As soon as I got it down pretty good, my first impulse was to go stand in front of the mirror and watch myself do this. I 'sold out' right away! If my impulse was to go watch myself in the mirror, it wasn't like I was in it for 'art.'

"I did pretty good in public school right up until around then. Then I went off to prep school. That was a disaster. I graduated, but that's about all I did. Then I went to Chapel Hill to the University of North Carolina. Pretty much washed out of there in a couple of years. But by then I was into music, so it didn't make any difference.

"I don't think I even thought about writing songs until Bob Dylan got really famous when I was, like, 16 or so. And I didn't even think much about it even then. When I moved to Chapel Hill, I'd play old folk songs, blues songs or Carter Family songs in the clubs. So the first songs I wrote were supposed to sound like old folk songs. I'd stick one in the middle of a set, and if no one noticed that it was one I'd written instead of a folk song, then I thought it was a successful song. From around 19 years old on, songwriting was kind of all I did. That was going to be my way of expressing myself."

He joined Simpson, a band headed by future playwright and author Bland Simpson. Olney's passionate rendition of Leadbelly's "Black Betty" on the group's 1971 LP was later aped by Ram Jam to become a big pop hit. Around this same time, song poet Kris Kristofferson issued his debut album. Olney was electrified when he heard it.

"That record is one of the reasons I came to Nashville," he recalls. "Being from Rhode Island and moving to North Carolina was a big deal for me. I always felt this outsider-ness. But when I heard that Kris Kristofferson record, I went, 'Wait a minute. This isn't just about guys in a bar or a honky-tonk. These are lyrics that belong to everybody.' I wouldn't have thought to come to Nashville otherwise."

Olney arrived in Music City in 1973. He signed contracts with several publishing companies and had every intention of being a mainstream songwriter. He struggled to find his true songwriting "voice" until he wrote the recklessly romantic "If My Eyes Were Blind" in 1975. Thereafter, peers like Rodney Crowell and Guy Clark began praising his vivid works.

He formed a band to showcase them. At its first show, Olney began "testifying," and the band began rocking. Word spread quickly. In 1978-85, Dave Olney & The X-Rays were stars of the Nashville nightlife circuit, opened for Elvis Costello & The Attractions, appeared on Austin City Limits, recorded two hot LPs and served as one of the founders of Nashville's alternative-music scene. Lathered-up performances by its theatrical frontman became the stuff of legend.

"No one knew who the hell I was before the X-Rays. When the band ended, I was basically back to Square One. But that's when I found out whether I really liked my job or not. If you haven't gotten famous or made some kind of mark and you have to face the stark reality that maybe this isn't going to pay off in a material way, then you find out whether you like it or not. To me, that was kind of a lucky break."

He began to delve deeper than ever as a songwriter. Eye of the Storm (1986), Deeper Well (1989), Roses (1991), High Wide and Lonesome (1995), Real Lies (1997) and Through a Glass Darkly (1999) all garnered critical acclaim on Philo/Rounder. In between came his highly entertaining 1987 album with The Nashville Jug Band, theatrical song cycles based on William Faulkner's Light in August (1993) and As I Lay Dying (2001) and seven more solo CDs for various independent labels.

In 2003, LoudHouse issued The Wheel as his first recording of thematically linked compositions. It became one of Olney's most applauded CDs. Migration is its successor.

"Talking again about the theater aspect of what I do, I think of making these records as like having a repertory company. It's like, 'This is what we want to do. What part can you play?' Think of the old episodes of Gunsmoke with Kitty, Doc, Festus and the regulars. It wasn't just a shoot-'em-up. That show was a repertory company with character development.

"That's my model. Deanie Richardson is a fiddler, but she is also the whistler on 'My Lovely Assistant' and plays mandolin on everything. There's a lot of stuff she can do. I've been using [bass player] Mike Fleming for coming on 20 years. Robb Earls and his Vortex Studio have been with me since the 1990s.

"One of the things I had in mind with this record was to do something different with percussion. I told Pat McInerney, 'Bring whatever you want, but don't bring a drum set. I want these rhythm tracks to kind of build up organically. Think about it as if you didn't know anything about drums and found them in the middle of a forest. Like, gee, what can I do with this?' The other thing was, I wanted to play more electric guitar myself. The baritone electric is me. And the lead guitar on 'Speak Memory.'

"As for the singing, it's acting. It's how much of yourself can you bring to the people? If it's the whole of your humanity, you can even sing wrong notes. I feel like I was able to 'focus' on this record in the same way that I did on Deeper Well. Somehow or other, I'm 'in' this record more than any other record I've done."




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