Moses Atwood is seeking the timeless. “I try to write music that you might not know when it was written,” says Atwood about his new release, One Bright Boat. “So I wanted to record in the same way.” Many musicians strive to create a sound that’s both nostalgic and fresh. In Atwood’s case, he more than succeeded. One Bright Boat resonates with a warm, wooden timelessness, thanks to Atwood’s organic, spontaneous recording and songwriting techniques.
Falling into the broad category of Americana, One Bright Boat recalls the music of Van Morrison and Randy Newman, and at times has an R&B/New Orleans feel. The lyrics are a mysterious poetry born of empathy and wonder. Vivid descriptive images interplay with intriguing metaphors. The stories Atwood tells on One Bright Boat take the listener from Maine to Louisiana, from California into the landscape of the psyche.
Asked about his songwriting, Atwood says, “I don’t go into it with any kind of preconceived ideas. It’s very much the method of bringing things out of my imagination. So it’s a continual process of improvisation and mumbling nonsense until something works, and then I’ll try and fit more pieces together. It’s usually long after the fact that I get a sense of what the song is about.”
Moreover, Atwood rarely writes anything down when working on a song. “You know how sometimes if you have a great idea you get kindof frantic about it — you want to write it down or turn on a recorder, like it’s just gonna flutter or go off,” he explains. “It’s almost like to spite that instinct, I don’t write things down. Because I assume that the stuff that’s worthwhile will come back a lot of the time, and that’s proved to be true.”
As a songwriter, “You’re the luckiest when your train of thought or your thread doesn’t snap until you have something that is complete enough to be something,” Atwood says. When it comes down to it, “Songwriting is what I consider my craft (much more than being a musician).”
That said, Atwood’s vocal and instrumental contributions (guitar, piano, dobro) are strong in the foreground of One Bright Boat. His resonate baritone, reminiscent of blues-folk legend Abner Jay, lends an emotional depth of the songs. Atwood assembled an impressive group of musicians for the recording, which was produced and engineered by Bill Moriarty (Dr. Dog) at his Waking Studio in Philadelphia. Utilizing the talents of Michael Libramento (drums, guitar, keys) Matt Smith (pedal steel), Justin Ray (trumpet) and Jacob Rodriguez (sax), One Bright Boat features inventive playing and a strong groove throughout.
One Bright Boat manages to achieve that elusive balance between being too tight and too loose. That might be because it was recorded in less than a week. “I am beginning to be more vehement about my dislike of the way people record now, and how it’s become the norm to take everything apart and then break it down and put it on this grid and multi-track everything,” Atwood admits. “I feel that it robs all sorts of great music of what makes it great, makes it lose its soul. So I’d rather risk the sloppiness and keep the soul.” It is doubtful anyone will describe One Bright Boat as sloppy, but it is virtually impossible to talk about the record without using the word soul.
In many ways, Atwood approaches his career with the same fluidity he brings to songwriting and recording. “I have a very good feeling about the direction things are going in, but it’s so hard to know — it’s such a ridiculous enterprise to try and endeavor … I’d like to think that my incredibly slow and ambling, non-aggressive approach is my way of trying to be OK with myself as much as I can, regardless.” So while he’s open to all of the possibilities, he not too attached to a particular outcome. Because, ultimately, “Your dreams are what you have to do, but they may or may not be the answer to your prayers.”
In “Tell it Like it Is,” the last track on One Bright Boat, Atwood sings, “Can you feel your history feeding you lines? Look out, life can be a puppet show — every day, the same role.” But, Atwood says, “You get to break through all of that stuff with some kind of creative process. Then you defy the bounds that we’re told we live within.”
— Ami Worthen can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
who: Moses Atwood, with Johnson’s Crossroad
what: CD-release for One Bright Boat
where: Lexington Avenue Brewery (LAB)
when: Friday, March 30 (9:30 p.m. $10. lexavebrew.com)