Kevin Welch admits to having two favorite gigs -- The Blue Door in Oklahoma City and the annual Song Island Songwriter's Week in Denmark. These venues are as different as night and day, but both go a long way toward describing this acclaimed singer/songwriter's relationship to his art.
Kevin, whose family settled in Oklahoma City when he was 7, has deep ties to the nation's heartland, the struggles of Dust Bowl life and the flow of the Great Mother Road, Route 66. The rustic Blue Door exemplifies this connection. "It's one of my very favorite places in the whole world," he explains, "it's a room that you can get maybe 120 people in, crammed. Now there's a little sign but that's brand new, it's always just had a blue door, and the front is just a stone facade that's leaning out so far that it's about to take the whole building with it. There are no right angles anywhere. . . I feel real comfortable and real happy playing there.
Far removed from hard-scrapple, dusty Oklahoma is the island of Samso in Denmark. There, songwriters from all over the world gather to hone their craft in Song Island's communal, workshop-like environment. "It's a week-long red wine party," says Kevin, "and I just tend to roam around and help people edit stuff and work on their lyrical English, just structural stuff. But I've made a lot of friends there over the years, and I ended up in the studio with some of them."
These two locales provide the ideal frame of reference for Kevin's latest release, Millionaire. Recorded in Nashville, TN and Denmark with The Danes, Kevin's Copenhagen-based band of friends, Millionaire combines the heartland's gritty realism with the lighthearted purposiveness of Song Island.
Millionaire weaves tales of heartache and triumph, pain and joy, sunshine and snow. The bluesy, guitar-driven feel of Millionaire will please long-time Welch fans; alt-country and roots music listeners will love the artful wordplay of this finely crafted project.
Sparse images of the desolate yet familiar Oklahoma landscape structure the new CD. On "Long Cold Train," (written by Welch's close friend John Hadley) for example, Kevin sings, "It's a long cold train, Johnny's in pain/ He goes to the station with his mind in flames/ Go on and lay down Johnny, with your heart on the long cold tracks." Such stripped-down imagery is appropriate for Millionaire, which, as Kevin explains, is not as song-dependent as his previous work. "I tried to back off on that to leave more room for the record. These songs are a little more transparent lyrically. . . like good skeletons to hang a record on."
This approach influenced the process of recording Millionaire, which often took on the collaborative feel of Song Island. As a result, The Danes play much more than just a supporting role on the record. "I came up playing with the Dead Reckoners and they're very creative people," explains Kevin, "but I wanted a radical departure and got it with these guys. From a production standpoint, I took a step back and let the band take a lot of liberties to do things that they wanted to do, even in the overdub and mix phase. Usually, once the tracks are done I kind of get off by myself and organize everything. This time, though, I even left tracks on the record that I would have normally left off because the band really liked them. That's new for me and kind of a liberating feeling to just let that happen."
Millionaire is the first release from a new partnership between Dead Reckoning Records and Compendia Music Group. Dead Reckoning, a cooperative, independent record label co-founded by Kevin and songwriter/ recording artist Kieran Kane in 1995, has long been known for both its artistic and critical successes. In addition to albums by Kevin and Kieran, their catalog includes releases by fellow Reckoners Tammy Rogers and Harry Stinson, as well as projects by Michael Henderson, The Bluebloods, The Fairfield Four, and Dave Olney.
"There came a time when all the wrestling with the music business just got to where it became kind of futile," says Kevin, who wrote songs for Waylon Jennings, Roger Miller, Trisha Yearwood, Patty Loveless and The Judds and released two albums of his own -- Kevin Welch and Under My Wheels -- on the Warner/Reprise label during the early '90s. "I realized that I couldn't change it and forming Dead Reckoning was an expression of that. We just accepted the fact that we were probably never gonna' qualify for the mainstream, but I still wanted to keep playing and writing and all that stuff."
Dead Reckoning released Kevin's next two recordings -- Life Here On Earth and Beneath My Wheels. These CD's and the rest of the Dead Reckoning catalog will be reissued as part of the deal with artist-friendly record label and distribution company Compendia. This association will enable Dead Reckoning to remain dedicated to the creative side of the business, while leaving the distribution and marketing of its products in sensitive hands. "When we first decided to start Dead Reckoning I knew that it would be a life's work," says Kevin, "but we tried to do everything on our own and we just got tired. The whole ideal of Dead Reckoning is not something I want to walk away from, so Compendia has taken over a lot of the day to day stuff. It's breathed new life into the whole company, and I feel like we're in great shape. I really do believe that we can keep this thing going until we just don't want to do it anymore."
Kevin's ability to mix the dust of Oklahoma with the free-spirited artistry of Danish musicians speaks to the depth of this complex, talented artist. Millionaire, the latest album from performer Kevin Welch, reflects the natural evolution of both a brilliant creator and a richly textured career.